Current Issue #488

Festival Review:
Enter Achilles

Hugo Glendinning

An answer to the abstraction of many contemporary dance performances, Enter Achilles presents characters that are instantly recognisable and frighteningly real. A quarter of a century since its premiere, watching it live still inspires awe and deep discomfort.

There’s a palpable tension to watching Enter Achilles’ preening, lager fuelled version of masculinity that’s constantly on the edge of descending into violence. Its depiction of a pack of gleefully aggressive Englishmen on a night out is scary precisely because this group so recognisable. Sitting in the audience means being subject to the same tension that comes from noticing a group like this in the pub, or on the street.

And yet Lloyd Newson’s choreography ensures that this ugly version of masculinity sits alongside sublime displays of beauty. The men grapple playfully and turn into multi-headed beasts, their undeniable strength matched by mesmerising grace as they lift and hurdle each other. The set, a multi-tiered playground with windows and boltholes through which the cast members hurl themselves, only enhances these displays.

And yet no matter how beautiful these movements, there’s a simmering tension that’s impossible to ignore. The impressive displays of athleticism that result from this peacocking are inevitably centred on the pint glasses that fuel the endless chorus of oneupmanship. The desire for each man to outdo their comrades is on full display, as is the imperative to suppress any signs of difference, to act the buffoon rather than show hurt that could be perceived as weakness.

When violence does erupt, the ways in which it is channelled to another target are just as manifest, with particularly terrifying results when a blow up sex doll is brought onstage. Tom Davis Dunn in particular gives a magnificent performance, his stunning physique matched by a barely suppressed rage that makes his presence genuinely scary, even when he’s ostensibly in good humour.

The focus in Enter Achilles is on characters rather than a linear narrative, but there’s more than enough to identify and recognise these men. That it still feels so timely (with a few updates to include the #MeToo movement and the current wave of British nationalism) is perhaps the most scary thing of all.

Enter Achilles was performed at Dunstan Playhouse on Sunday 15 March

Alexis Buxton-Collins

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