Samuel Pepys was a compulsive diarist. Thanks to him, we know a fascinating lot about the politics and society of 17th century England; but we also learn in excruciating detail about the minutiae of his own everyday life, as if he were straining to assign meaning to his daily existence.
This suggested to Annie-B Parson, Artistic Director of the New York-based Big Dance Theatre, a clear parallel with the way in which people today use Facebook; and so she set about creating 17c, a work where the world of Restoration England and contemporary life collide and inform each other.
The condition of women is central to this work. By his own account, Pepys treated his own wife, Bess, abominably, an occurrence not uncommon in Restoration England, but which finds an echo – 17c suggests – in men’s treatment of women in modern times. #metoo is very much present in this work.
Bess, whose own diaries Pepys destroyed in a fit of pique, is a silent presence; left voiceless, her sole way of expressing herself – if briefly – is dance.
17c is also interested in Margaret Cavendish, a 17th century playwright, whose progressive, feminist even, work was largely unpublished. An extract from Cavendish’s play The Convent of Pleasure in 17c, extolling the virtues of women’s friendships and men’s exclusion from their lives, constitutes a play within the play.
The text – and this is mostly a spoken work, with all too brief dance interludes – shifts between 17th century language and contemporary jargon; the costumes, too, make a nod to 17th century wigs and brocades, mixing them with colourful modern-day clothes.
The stage is brightly lit and busy, with digital projections onto a backcloth changing regularly, props wheeled around and six television screens suspended high up, illustrating or distorting snatches of the action below.
17c is a kaleidoscopic post-modern collage of scenes that don’t actually cohere into very much. When it’s entertaining, it IS entertaining, but too often it becomes rather soporific.
It was brought to London as part of the annual Dance Umbrella Festival which, under the stewardship of Emma Gladstone, has moved way beyond anything that can be properly defined as ‘dance.’ Described as dance-theatre, 17c is primarily a work of verbal – and verbose – theatre, where what choreography there is applies primarily to the movement and placing of its five performers.
Age Guidance: 11+
Pre-show Q & A with Annie-B Parson and DU18 Director Emma Gladstone Friday 28 Sept at 17:00 (£6 concessions £5)
|What||17c, Old Vic Review|
|Where||The Old Vic, The Cut, London, SE1 8NB | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
26 Sep 18 – 29 Sep 18, 19:00 Sat. mat 14:30 Dur.: 80 mins no interval
|Website||Click here to book via The Old Vic|