Arts Review: Crazy Jane

Dir. Garry Robson, Tron Theatre, 28th – 30th May 2015

Crazy Jane tells the true story of Jane Avril, a girl who grew up in fin de siècle Paris to become one of the Moulin Rouge’s most famous dancers, immortalised in Henry Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters. Her story is one of penny-dreadful extremes, taking her from convents to brothels to asylums, and situates her in proximity to Freud, Jung and Lautrec. Yet this rendition of the story falls flat of the sumptuous, gritty and compelling and is instead rather dull and unfocused.

The narrative jumps around between Jane’s young life, her time at the Salpêtrière Hospital, where she was treated for chorea, a movement disorder which causes jerking movements, which was treated in part by classical ballet training, leading to her unique dance style which would later earn her the name La Mélinite (a kind of explosive), and her subsequent life as a dancer and relationship with Toulouse-Lautrec.

At points the focus swings to Lautrec himself, and his troubles, however there is something uncomfortable about these scenes when they focus on his disability (Lautrec’s legs didn’t grow past childhood, though the rest of his body did) which the actor evidently doesn’t share, standing taller than the actresses. It’s unclear why chronology is eschewed, and simply adds to the confusion over what this play is about.

Perhaps it does give us a sense of the way that young Jane was buffeted around Paris, never quite finding a home, except in her dancing which she only ever does alone, and never really for those who are watching her. Yet the impact of this is lost by the fact that there is never really any invitation to invest in any of the characters, there is little emotion evoked, only a litany of not very nice things happening, performed with an almost Brechtian distancing, yet this is not used to appeal to the intellect in any way either. It does at least work for George Drennan’s Zidler as he addresses the audience with a sleaziness which is actually refreshing as it constitutes moments of actual connection.

Jane_Avril_by_Toulouse-Lautrec

Where the play is striking, is in its incorporation of British Sign Language into the texture of the performance, at times being the mode of communication between the featured characters, while others provide a spoken interpretation. And the choreography is also bizarre and fascinating, with Pauline Knowles’ performance of it particularly magnetic. Hector Bizerk’s soundtrack is interesting in its own right, and worth a listen, but yet in the context of the play seems a little too Scottish (no other parallels are drawn or relevances hinted at) and at times hits off too-literal descriptions of what is happening on stage.

In all the production seems rather self-conscious. It and the audience lose sight of what it’s trying to relate, which is a shame for a story and character with such rich potential.

[Caitlin MacColl – @turningtoaverse]

Photo credit: The Guardian and Wikipedia

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