Play Without Words review

October 29, 2012


Play Without Words is one of renowned choreographer Matthew Bourne’s most successful pieces. Created in 2002, it received critical acclaim during its first showing, produced by the national theatre. Play Without Words went on to win the 2003 Olivier Awards for Best Entertainment and Best Theatre Choreographer and has proved popular with audiences as well as critics.

The piece is set in the Sixties and every element of the staging ensures the audience is submerged in this era. The score also plays a vital part, with bluesy music played by a live aiding the piece’s evocative subject matter.

Focusing on an upper class household, Play Without Words begins with the hiring of a new manservant and ends with the power balance within the house being turned on its head. With lust and seduction being prevailing themes, the piece follows the lead characters’ fall from grace and exposes the fragile relationships behind the facade of privilege.

Every element of Bourne’s choreography heightens the sexual tension that dominates Play Without Words, particularly during a scene which shows the house’s maid slowly seducing her employer (pictured above), using every one of her movements to evoke desire. Mixed with these heated interactions, Bourne shows his incredible aptitude for  character observation, creating  many humorous moments for the audience.

Play Without Words is a visual delight – dance sequences are  often duplicated or triplicated by the cast which heightens the emotion portrayed and creates a feast of beautiful lines and acrobatic movement.  Although the busyness of the choreography can sometime detract from the piece’s story (I certainly felt I would need to view Play Without Words again in order to pick up some of the subtleties in the plot), it is rightly hailed as a dance masterpiece and is definitely a must see for anyone passionate about contemporary dance.

I saw the piece during it four week run at Sadler’s Well (ending 5/8/12), however Play Without Words continues to tour and its success suggests that it will no doubt return to London in the near future.