A show about two performers telling stories from the good old days, What Happens In The Winter offers only occasional glimmers of hope and insight into the narrators’ lives.
At its core, Upswing’s What Happens In The Winter gives two women, one a dancer and the other an aerialist, the chance to tell stories from their lives. We hear about love and loss, the exciting events they were part of, and how they feel now they are starting to slow down. A kind of joint autobiography, the show indulges their experiences which come across as slightly boastful in places. The delivery seems forced, as if the pair are attempting to act out the anecdotes instead of just relaxing into the dialogue.
Aerialist Lindsey Butcher retains a sense of novelty, displaying a range of climbing skills on an impressive rope setup. She displays some clear experience with the equipment and tells us stories of performers she admires. She does all this working with the equipment. Dancer Ann Dickie attempts to do the same, mixing her art of dance with her stories.
Unfortunately, Dickie holds nowhere near as much as much of the attention as her stage partner’s segments. Likewise, the stage setup is completely unbalanced as a huge rig of ropes holds all the focus centre stage while the barres are resigned to the back and side of the space lack presence.
There is some audience interaction but it is generally limited to the occasional closed question asked by the women. Instead. the most engaging aspects of the show are a few of their humorous tales of yesteryear. Graham, their counterweight and equipment assistant suddenly and without warning becomes part of the show and occasionally pitches in with equally awkward, forced lines.
At one point, we see Dickie’s failed attempts to climb the aerial equipment, despite the encouragement of Lindsey. Dickie shows defiant bravery here, albeit briefly, but it all seems a little too self-indulgent, edging towards forced pathos for these aging performers.
Ultimately, the show has three key failings, namely a distinct lack of direction, substance and (worst of all) clear statement. The first of these is epitomised by a cacophonous denouement which sees the cast in stereotypical clown outfits running around to no particular purpose.
The body of the show comes across as little more than a collection of tales and thoughts from Butcher and Dickie and, even then, the stories are jumbled and sometimes mixed up, segmented and told simultaneously. This stylistic approach to storytelling quickly becomes confusing, as if the performers are consciously attempting to create an art piece rather a true exploration of their history and feelings. The following section slips back into straight storytelling and goes no way towards creating an experimental structure.
In short, What Happens In The Winter‘s structure. content and brief playing time of 55 minutes allow only for a casual insight into the women’s lives and nothing more.
What Happens In The Winter. Produced by Upswing. The Albany, London, SE8 4AG. 26 April. £12. http://www.thealbany.org.uk