Play Without Words @ Sadler’s Wells
Matthew Bourne’s revival of Play Without Words, 10 years on from its premiere, proves that the original success of the production can – and has – been extended to the 21st century.
Refreshing and mysterious, the plot is taken from Joseph Losey’s 1963 film The Servant, telling the story of an upper-class young man, his fiancée and their servants; each portrayed by three dancers and each working to maintain the fascination of the separation and the multiple possibilities of many lives under one roof. The three facets narrate different versions of the story, which adds intrigue and ambiguity to the storyline and the characters, increasing the illusion of the entire performance and the allure of the sexy Chelsea socialites, which are so often at the forefront of the media’s mind, both in the 21st century and throughout the 1960s.
As in every one of his productions, Bourne inextricably links the narrative to the dancers’ technical ability. The dressing and undressing – culturally and socially – of the young man Anthony by his manservant particularly stands out. The mixing of stylish movement with the practicalities of providing for the masters was performed with emotional skill, interchanging humour with the delicate naivety of the rich and privileged. The role reversal that occurred between the menservants and the Anthonies enabled the dancers, particularly Adam Maskell’s Anthony, to display a great variety of talent through their ability to convey different levels of emotion. Combining excellent technique and physicality with the perfect execution of movement, the maids worked to weave the narrative together through their brilliant characterisation.
Whilst the final moments of the production were ambiguous, they seemed a suitable end considering the multiple partnering and emotive, technical qualities that were prevalent throughout. With the constant shift of choices and characters, Bourne appears to highlight the potential mindsets of those with money and power, presuming they can have everything all ways and always.