From athleticism to transvestism; group hooliganism to solitary onanism; this was a piece about being a man, as Robert Clark periodically reminded the audience from a downstage microphone. It was certainly a piece that challenged the men in the audience to recognise the personal relevance of the behavioural aspects amongst this strange tribe.  

© Bosie Vincent
© Bosie Vincent

Charlotte Vincent is developing a burgeoning reputation as a strong feminist voice in the UK contemporary dance community, not the least following her exceptionally powerful Virgin Territory, which premiered last year, and has earned a nomination for Vincent Dance Theatre as Best Independent Company in the National Dance Awards 2017 (plus another for the performer, Antonia Grove).  In some ways, SHUT DOWN is a close sibling to Virgin Territory, through a similar deep dive into gender behaviours as – for the first time – Vincent has made an all-male work. The association between the two works was reinforced by audience members being invited to view a 15-minute filmed adaptation of Virgin Territory prior to this performance.  

SHUT DOWN begins with 15 year-old, Marcus Faulkner, playing with a rugby ball, swerving around imaginary opponents, to touch down against a large white screen, which plays a major part in subsequent proceedings.  Eventually, he is joined by five other men (a mix of adults and youths), all dressed in the same charcoal-grey, two-piece suits, white shirts and an array of casual footwear (mostly bearing the Nike symbol).  They looked like renegades from a Quentin Tarantino film or a particularly age-diverse, “boy” band;  imagery later reinforced when the sextet spreads across the front of the stage to mime a song about men opening up to their emotional, inner selves!

From Tarantino, the filmic reference switched to The Usual Suspects (and, probably, a coincidental ‘nod’ to Kevin Spacey) as four of the men stood against the white screen and drew an outline around their bodies, referencing themselves as the “(absent) father”, the “(prodigal) son” and “(an)other”. Words and slogans were thereafter regularly written on the screen for added emphasis.

The work – lasting over ninety minutes – was based on a series of episodes, apparently derived from real-life testimonies, ranging from the aggressive (group wrestling and rugby scrums); through the toilet humour of Clark taking competitive pride (and hilarity) from his ability to ejaculate copiously up a wall; and to the especially poignant (tough-looking Jack Sergison dissolving into sobbing hysteria when his “pals” disappear during a game of hide'n seek).  

It was hard-going at times and the work could have been improved by a judicious edit, particularly towards the end when it seemed to finish and start again like an inextinguishable candle. But, despite the excess, it was greatly enhanced by an excellent and eclectic mix of performers. Clark, in particular, was comfortable and funny as the work’s compere; and Janusz Orlik is another charismatic performer with a fascinating quality of movement. Another 15 year-old, Eben Roddis (known as Eben ‘Flo), punctuated the dance with a confident and aggressive series of spoken word, conscious rap poems. 

The group dance sequences had a fascinating charm, notably in the muscle-isolating popping (the younger dancers all seemed to have a street dance background) and there were several repetitions of the six perambulating around a roughly-drawn circle, before one would break out – street battle style – for a solo. Perhaps the most pertinent coup de thèâtre was when, in the midst of a rugby ruck, the ball suddenly morphed into a baby!

A good game was trying to spot all the references, which I failed, on several counts; but, I think, I detected the nod towards Mortal Kombat in the scene of multiple, slow-motion shootings against the wall.  The performers also used their “finger pistols” and imaginary pump-action shotguns to pick us off, in the audience, one by one. It was an effective signpost to the fact that all the mass murderers by shooting, in modern times (from Dunblane to Las Vegas), have, of course, been men.  

As with Virgin Territory, Vincent makes her audience confront issues that are often uncomfortable but her treatise on contemporary masculinity, with all its memorable confusions and contradictions, is a strong and challenging work.

***11