Nigel Charnock: Haunted by the Future

Posted: October 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Nigel Charnock: Haunted by the Future

Nigel Charnock: Haunted by the Future*, Dance Umbrella, Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins, October 13

photo: Tomer Applebaum

*Note: this performance replaces Ivo Dimchev’s Lili Handel which has been cancelled due to personal circumstances.

I am sorry to have missed Dimchev, but the opportunity to see Nigel Charnock’s last completed work in a festival dedicated to his memory is a ‘consummation devoutly to be wish’d’ both for Dance Umbrella and the audience. Haunted by the Future is about a consummation that is no longer devoutly to be wish’d – far from it – and it is nevertheless consummated with that abundant, overflowing energy and passion we know from Charnock’s own abundant, overflowing energy and passion. The universe will never be the same now he is out there.

But here in the relative pinpoint of a Platform Theatre, Talia Paz and Mike Winter dig into Charnock’s material with rubber gloves and claws to deliver this orphaned work in the presence of a doting, devoted public with such channeled energy that it might be impossible to ever replay it. Winter clearly has the harder task as Charnock wrote himself into the part. He is second generation but there is no doubt he is his father’s son. Paz, who also produced Haunted by the Future, is in a league of her own, free to embrace the work with her heart, her intelligence, her richness of expression, and a second position extension that has more meaning than anything ever seen on the stage at Covent Garden.

The uncompromising symmetry (of another dimension entirely to Beth Gill’s Electric Midwife) of the opening sequence where Winter drags Paz on to the stage struggling in a voluminous sack and the ending where Paz stuffs Winter into the same sack and drags him off is too premonitory to pass over. Is this the future Charnock was haunted by? It suggests the two characters are twin aspects of Charnock’s own persona: the love and hate, the fighting and making love, the need to be held and the need to stand alone, the need for understanding and the need to tell the world to fuck off; the desire to go back as much as the desire to go forward, in control and out of control, hurt and consoling, blindly passionate and searingly honest. Poignant, funny and hysterical by turns, it is the extraordinary performance by Paz and Winter that brings all these contrary aspects into one articulate, warm, flesh-and-blood whole that makes us realize how much we shall miss Charnock’s brand of no-holds-barred theatre now he is no longer on our stage.

There is his eclectic range of recorded music, from the chaotic mix of the opening five minutes to the sublime voice of Kathleen Ferrier — to which Paz dances a lovely flowing solo — via the nostalgia of Fred Astaire, Edith Piaf, Barbara Streisand, the whistling Ronnie Ronalde, a klezmer band and the soulful James Brown; the bare stage but for a few props, like the large sack, a rolled-up duvet that doubles as a flaccid dildo, a couple of chairs, clouds of ever-dispersing smoke; a disco ball emitting rays of sparkle in the opening sequence (lighting by Shahar Bareket); for each contestant in the matrimonial ring a bottle of water, a towel and a megaphone with which they harangue each other across the stage; the action running off into the audience, the screaming, the rants and the touching ballroom-to-crawling duets of a sexual, combative, face-slapping, bum-rubbing, hand-swinging relationship; and throughout Charnock’s irreverent, impish, to-hell-with-you sense of humour.

Haunted by the Future is a fitting tribute to Charnock, in his own hand. Who else could have done it better? One might almost say he was there, egging on Paz and Winter to their limits, which they surpassed. There are no half measures in Nigel Charnock; there never were and there never will be. Wherever he is.