This double-bill of physical theatre delivers its messages lightly, but addresses timely topics around the exploitation of workers – while remaining intriguing and entertaining throughout.
The Sensemaker, a solo piece from Elsa Couvreur, sees an anonymous woman from the near future taking part in the phone-interview from hell. Many of us will recognise the basics of this situation, but a handful of clever subversions – the phone which doesn't ring in quite the way it ought to, the unexpected change to the music-on-hold – turn what could be a slightly predictable scenario into one that stays surprising and fresh. There's plenty of comedy here, but also some necessary darkness; the woman's identified only by a number, and the computerised voice conducting the interview inevitably segues into asking questions about her personal life.
The mainstay of the piece, though, is a lengthy sequence where Couvreur lip-synchs to a series of voice-overs, using exaggerated gestures to illustrate the words. The fragmentary quotes she mimes along to are drawn from many sources, yet the same gestures come back again and again – illustrating very different phrases, but fitting each one just as well. It's a lot of fun, but it's also intellectually interesting: proof that the most individualistic things or people can, on the surface, be reduced to resemble each other.
So what does it all mean? I'd guess there's no single right answer to that. For me, alongside the obvious humour, there's a point about the difference between volition and obligation; when the woman passes the time by dancing, it's a sunny and sparkling moment, but it feels completely different when the anonymous voice orders her to do the same. She does have agency, though, and the low-key way she chooses to express it is a fitting finale to the work.
The second piece, Drop The Gogo, tackles related themes in a contrasting style. This time, far from a solo performance, the stage is filled with movement; a mixed-gender cast display themselves on podiums, and dance with what initially seems like free-spirited joy. Their movements, too, are both individual and synchronised. They're able to express themselves – but only to a degree.
And of course, they're not as happy as they seem. The dance grows less joyful, more desperate, more mechanical – and then in a series of solo vignettes, we see what these people would really like to be doing with their time. One wanted to be a doctor, one wanted to be a construction worker, one a fireman. This isn't a preachy or worthy piece – the mildly sensual tone of the early dance is retained throughout – but there's a general sense of ambitions lost, and cynicism gained.
A small part of me asks whether go-go dancing is an easy target, and the piece does carry the slightly questionable implication that dancing in a nightclub is a second-class career. But it's a well-constructed work, which makes the point it wants to make with eloquence and wit. And the final, hopeful image – a twist to a segment which seemed to be heading somewhere much darker – is a truly uplifting visual highlight.
The Sensemaker and Drop The Gogo are very different pieces, but they complement each other in asking probing questions about employment and individuality. The combination makes for an entertaining but, ultimately, thought-provoking show.