The King’s Head Theatre is the latest fringe venue to reopen following a period of prolonged closure, and does so with its Playmill Festival of new writing. Opening the season is Matthew Morrison’s Dance which had its online premiere last year, during the pandemic.
Directed by Charlotte Peters, this sometimes-unsettling two-hander explores very modern themes. It opens in the same week that three England football players are being subjected to horrific and unacceptable abuse on social media, but Dance explores a side to social media bullying that rarely makes the headlines.
Produced by The Soho Poly, who were prolific in the seventies and eighties, its perhaps fitting that a play examining the digital age we live in, first premiered online. Its transfer to a physical stage, with an in-person audience, opens up new scope and possibilities, with the audience almost becoming a third character, as the lines are delivered straight to us.
Featuring Kemi, and her dad Richard, who is separated from Kemi’s mum, we’re taken head first in to the world of online bullying, the tactics that teenage bullies employ and the lack of support for victims and their families. Matthew Morrison’s script, doesn’t necessarily place the blame at the door of social media companies, but apportioning blame is not really the point of this play.
With a very clever twist, Morrison highlights how bullying extends beyond the virtual school playground, and puts a whole new spin on the story. The themes are often dark, but there’s a good deal of humour too, each character tells us their story separately, taking it in turns to recount their version of events, which often results in some of the funniest lines.
Under the direction of Charlotte Peters, Christopher Harper and Saffron Coomber each take a different approach to portraying their characters, highlighting the generational gap. Coomber’s Kemi is confident and self-assured, on the outside at least, while Harper plays the dad with greater hesitancy, like a still young man who once liked to party, but has lost the confidence to do so again. Both performances are fascinating to watch.
The advice given by Kemi’s school in regards to the bullying is “respond, don’t retaliate” Dance very subtly pulls this concept apart, and gives the audience the satisfaction of seeing some retaliation in the end.
Dance highlights the consequences that come with ‘going viral’, and the impact that can have on family life, especially when that was never the intention. It’s a sharp play that captures the dangers of social media, presenting them in a thought provoking, but highly entertaining way.
Dance is at The King’s Head Theatre until 17th July 2021, details for this and all productions in Playmill can be found here.