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Can We Talk About This?, DV8 Physical Theatre, Warwick Arts Centre | reviews, news & interviews

Can We Talk About This?, DV8 Physical Theatre, Warwick Arts Centre

Can We Talk About This?, DV8 Physical Theatre, Warwick Arts Centre

A courageous piece of political theatre argues that society has a blind spot about Muslim fundamentalism

A remarkable bit of physical imagining: Hannes Langolf and Christina May in Lloyd Newson's new production© Fiona Cullen/DV8

Some of the bravest people in theatre operate in the dance world. Lloyd Newson’s new DV8 production, Can We Talk About This?, tackles just as contentious and satirically explosive a subject as Javier de Frutos did in Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez, the luridly anti-Papist work that got him death threats and a BBC ban in 2009.

Newson takes on Islamic fundamentalism, confronts head-on the Salman Rushdie fatwa and the multiculturalism chimera, and in doing so may have forced himself to prepare for possible reprisals - not least when he shows this at the National Theatre next spring.

The title is ironic, the mode of many of Newson’s shows over the past 25 years. I miss the memorable physical eloquence and haunting visions of his great mute early shows (Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, Strange Fish, The Happiest Day of My Life), but there is a welcome sense of being put in a bullring with a sharp-horned, grown-up idea whenever, after a year or two's painstaking gestation, a new Newson production is born.

This time he wants to know whether we can talk about the traps which our directionless concept of multiculturalism have set. Have we, whether Muslim or Roman Catholic or Rastafarian, realised that lazy thinking leads to unholy messes, where Sharia laws operate within UK laws, where fathers, brothers, husbands may get away with murdering women and girls in what the white media timorously entitles “honour killings” in a land where a man of any other religious persuasion would be fearlessly prosecuted for a similar act? Or where an imam-professor at a London university who postulates that Darwinism can co-exist with the Koran is issued with a fatwa? Or where Muslims turn on Muslims in Morocco, Turkey, Somalia?

You might ask, can we dance about this? and you might reply, no

You might ask, can we dance about this? and you might reply, no. There has been less and less physical invention in Newson’s oeuvre as he got older, and more and more talking. But it's always been unwavering political theatre. Of course we whites can bloody well talk about where we stand when freedom of speech comes up against political correctness. The question is, can a Muslim wife if it results in a beating up by her husband? And it's Newson's dance commentary that shows the fear and pain of that humiliation, even if the marvellous imagery of past DV8 productions is lacking here.

dv8 2The bleak, grungey set designed by Anna Fleischle could be a community centre anywhere (dun walls, fake parquet floor, scummy windows too high to look through). The text is a medley of TV reports and interviews arguing that establishment compromises with Islamist fundamentalists have polluted our understanding of our own society: the permitting of brutally unequal treatment of the chosen and the subservient - who might be women, gays, liberals, writers, people whose opinion is not your own (or in the case of the Catholic church that De Frutos was lampooning, choirboys and novice nuns).

Newson’s target is the furthest reaches of extremism, rather than the day-to-day muddling along as society’s strata crunch, crumble and elide in the interests of ordinary getting on, and what he perceives as their unbalanced stranglehold on political society. He is a dramatiser and his style is to confront. This is both a strength and a weakness, inasmuch as you very rapidly feel you’re being lectured to, told what to think.

As voices from the telly are heard in famous media confrontations of extreme and agnostic Muslims (a Newsnight one with Jeremy Paxman has a chaotic comic awfulness to it), the dancer-actors, mostly men in anonymous street clothes, execute voluble little cartoon moves, like John Cleese silly walks, embodying hesitancy, indecision, foot-shuffling moves from one space to another, as if attempting to gain tiny territorial advantages this way or that by constant slidings and seesawings. This is a remarkable bit of physical imagination. So is the verbal enacting of the murder of the Dutch fim-maker Theo van Gogh by a man describing the event while drawing savage cutting lines on the body of a woman.

dv8 secondNewson picks up on these key challenges to white liberal squeamishness: the Van Gogh killing, the assassination plots on a subversive Danish cartoonist, the racist charges against the Bradford headteacher Ray Honeyford almost 30 years ago. A woman amusingly voices and "dances" Shirley Williams MP as she gets so tangled up in her own liberalism that she implies solidarity with those who issued a death sentence on Rushdie for publishing The Satanic Verses. The polemic is powerful, the accumulation of evidence forcefully presented by photographs, films, personal testimony. The trickle of dance movement is a little sauce on top of the meat.

Last night a man walked out of the audience, shouting expletives at the bias - he was evidently a Newson stooge, intended to get the audience feeling more involved. The fact that he’s needed shows the limitations of this production as theatre. I emerged with enhanced admiration for my TV journalism colleagues whose reports Newson uses (they face personal threats, too, one imagines), and I don’t know how much more this theatrical presentation adds to them other than insistent endorsement. Passionate as it is, it’s an unrelenting, didactic 80 minutes. However, for Rushdie it’s also been an unrelenting 20-plus years of precious little general pity for his position. And for many others, whose names are written on the wall behind the performers, those years were not allowed to happen at all, because in the name of their god a bunch of murderous thugs around the world were allowed to presume that they were above the law.

  • Can We Talk About This? is at Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry till tomorrow; then Schauspielhaus Koeln, Cologne, 1-2 December; Onassis Cultural Center, Athens, Greece, 8-11 December; Trafo, Budapest, Hungary, 22-24 February 2012; Corn Exchange, Brighton, 29 February-3 March; National Theatre, London, 9-28 March; The Lowry, Salford, 18-19 May - tour information on DV8 site

Watch the DV8 trailer for Can We Talk About This?

There is a welcome sense of being put in a bullring with a grown-up idea whenever a new Newson production is born

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I would very much like a dvd of this work. It confronts the 'emperors new clothes' blindness to cultural extremism ,engendered in political correctness. DV8 is truly an iconoclastic company.

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