‘Death and Dancing’ is a sharp and funny commentary on what it means to be a gay person. The show follows a gay man and a lesbian woman, both named Max, played by Ben Smart and Eliana Franks, and is equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking.
An initial congratulations should be given to the cast and crew for powering through illness and isolation to put the show on. Despite Smart only coming out of isolation the day of the show, the performance seemed extremely well-rehearsed and generally very smooth. A well done should also be given to Franks for battling through illness to give a fantastic performance. A two-hander is taxing at the best times, but an excellent job was done especially given the circumstances.
The show seemed to improve as it went on with the actors settling into their roles and, while it was a little rough around the edges at times with some line slips, it was overall a slick show. It is easy for a show without much plot focusing on a small cast to become stagnant but the excellent direction from director Lowri Mathias meant this was never the case and it kept the show energetic and paced well. I enjoyed the few moments where the cast gave nods to the audience and think the cast could have played this element up even more. The use of music and dancing also kept the show fun and even in the more serious sections the show never crossed the line of the ‘gay tragedy’ cliché so often seen in shows discussing these themes.
The use of the minimal props and set was effective, really allowing the characters to shine and I felt the show was really at its best when both actors let loose and had fun with each other. Franks and Smart had excellent chemistry and their friendship was convincing. Franks’ character was intended to be a butch lesbian and I felt a little more work could have been done on the characterisation to really give the masculine body language she is said to have in the show. The way Franks sat and occasionally held herself was still very feminine. However, the illusion never shattered and props should definitely go to Franks for a powerful and punchy performance of a difficult character. Smart’s performance was incredibly engaging and real and though at times his American accent dropped out it was generally very good and his characterisation was a joy to watch.
However, at times some of the show’s tech was a little bit too on the nose with quick changes to spotlights to signify important monologues. Slower fades or more uses of tech throughout rather than at just these times would have made this smoother. There was also a very long gap in the middle of the show with the stage black that I’m not sure whether it was intentional and ideally this would have been sped up.
Overall, ‘Death and Dancing’ is incredibly entertaining, and a wonderful combination of the joy that comes with being a gay person and the hard realities we cannot shy away from. The show kept me engaged the whole time and was overall a really wonderful piece of theatre to see. I would love to see more shows like this, exploring these kinds of issues in Durham Student Theatre.
Image: Lion Theatre Company