“Grief does not change you”, writes John Green, “it reveals you.” Dave and his daughter Sam lose sight of each other and the world around them after the sudden death of their wife and mother Jackie. Getting up close and personal, Stopgap Dance Company’s new work The Enormous Room is an absorbing encounter with grief and loss.

Dave (David Toole) closets himself away in his home, ravaged by memories. The set (designed by Anna Jones) is like a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle creating platforms and ledges at varying heights. Dancers emerge from sideboards and cabinets like whispered secrets. Using his arms, Toole leapfrogs over furniture, folding himself in cupboards and squeezing under tables. He springs like a cat, perfectly balanced with pinpoint accuracy. Toole is a magnetic presence on stage, drawing us into his orbit of gnawing solitude.

© Michael Chapman
© Michael Chapman

Choreographer Lucy Bennett holds her creative nerve. She sets a steady pace and maintains a quiet intensity. A clock ticks, marking the passing of empty seconds. Dougie Evans’ score of everyday sounds and white noise probes a relentless loneliness that consumes every waking moment. Bennett resists the temptation of an emotional roller-coaster for something much closer to the truth - a slow invasion of grief that indelibly shapes the souls of the living.

Sam - locked out by her father’s despair - seeks solace in her friendship with Tom (Christian Brinklow). Hannah Sampson harnesses a maturity beyond her years in her debut role with Stopgap. The set is peeled away and Sam’s emotions explode in high energy, through tightly choreographed sequences. Sampson’s body elongates and contracts like a taut elastic band. Her adept acting skills crystallise Sam’s vulnerability. Hugging her knees to her chest, she watches her mother slowly melt away – in the closing moments she holds the audience in the palm of her hand.

The role of Jackie is performed by two dancers. Meritxell Checa and Amy Butler portray her as wife and mother respectively. Identically dressed in warm fluffy dressing gowns and clutching mugs of tea, their movements stutter as if someone is repeatedly pressing pause on worn down video tape. She is a memory of flesh and bone, as visceral to Dave and Sam as the lonely hours without her. The shared performance of Checa and Butler is pivotal. They stitch her persona together with a shared physicality. It is an intimate partnership that almost slips by unnoticed, but their joint execution is the thread that binds the narrative and characters.

© Michael Chapman
© Michael Chapman

Weaving in and out of the ensemble is Chock (Nadenh Poan). An impish creature, bristling with energy. Cackling, he tears up the space in his speeding wheelchair. Chock is elusive, Puck-like. He is a conduit between this world and the next - enabling Jackie’s onward journey and offering hope to Dave and Sam.

Stopgap is a company of disabled and non-disabled artists. Their innovation reaches beyond the stage with a professional training programme for disabled dancers. Sampson herself is a graduate, entering the company in 2016. Bennett predicts that Hannah Sampson has the potential to break down the barriers for dancers with learning disabilities in the same way David Toole has done for performers with physical disabilities. And not a day too soon.