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Theatre Review Clown jewels

LYNNE WALSH relishes a sweetly anarchic hour of dance and acrobatics, underscored by a big theme 

The Rest of our Lives
Battersea Arts Centre

BATTERSEA Arts Centre now bills itself as “a home for the extraordinary,” and this effervescent, melancholy, skilful show is exactly the right stuff.

Self-identifying as an old dancer and an old clown, Jo Fong and George Orange create a sweetly anarchic hour or so, with dance, acrobatics, and the best playlist of dance songs outside a wedding in the Welsh Valleys.

Fong is as earnest as a new primary schoolteacher, and just as anxious, with Orange as her lugubrious and long-suffering foil.

Deft direction has the audience in nervous anticipation, in that “has it started yet?” limbo so reminiscent of 1980s alternative theatre. Then — boom — out blasts Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. There’s some seated bopping from the audience, as younger ones register that this is a great track; older ones amongst us realise the disco hit is nearly 50 years old. And there’s the big theme in this clever piece: we’re not all as young as we were, and our bodies demand that we accept that.

The duo fling themselves into dance moves that see them hurling metal-framed chairs, clambering through them, rolling and leaping. At one point, Orange is hanging from the lighting rig, before tumbling down the centre aisle.

Moments of apparent exhaustion are interspersed with high energy. Fong slumps and advises us: “This show has a safe word. It’s ‘Help’.”

As in real life, the two rise from periods of weariness, with a gritty determination to carry on. Fong bellows out “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me! Motherfucker!” Some of us recognise Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name, some don’t. We all sing along.

The music switches, and Leonard Cohen’s Dance me to the End of Love lends its plangent tones to a pas de deux with a difference. Fong is rigid in Orange’s arms, immobile and utterly reliant on him. Younger audience members respond to the daft duet with chuckles, whilst an elderly chap across the aisle from me dabs a tear from his eye.

Now Fong is carrying her partner, her diminutive frame struggling and sweating. Someone in the front row offers a handkerchief to mop her brow.

Another track change, and Morrissey sings: “And I know it’s over, still I cling. I don’t know where else I can go.” Orange, with a comic physicality sometimes channelling Jaques Tati, signals an age-defying grit. Fong’s assumed weariness elicits our sympathy as she sighs: “There's no interval!”

Track change: Hot Butter’s 1972 hit Popcorn, and Fong and Orange are playing ping-pong. Well, of course they are. Imagine there being enough bats and balls for the entire front row. Immersive theatre at its best, the game commences. Then there are more balls. Hysterical theatre-tennis ensues.

In the mayhem, the two have taken audience partners, swaying and inviting others to dance. As we start to leave, many are still on the dance floor. Maybe they’re still there.

Runs until June 22. Box office 020 7223 2223, bac.org.uk

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