Review: Stuntman (Summerhall)
Updated: Oct 2
Dance piece about violence and masculinity feels stunted
There is a dance show for everybody. Much like theatre is far more than Shakespeare, dance is far more than ballet. Now and then a show like Stuntman by SUPERFAN will turn up to prove that point, in this case by reminding sceptical audiences that even something as masculine as fighting is a type of dance. Directed by Pete Lannon and performed by Sadiq Ali & David Banks, Stuntman combines stories of violence and masculinity intercut with playful fight scenes.
And by playful, think school-ground-level playful. Each fight scene follows the same structure: two enemies are fighting (each time in a different film style, like The Matrix or Die Hard) before one kills the other (in an increasingly dramatic fashion) and shouts “See you in hell motherfucker!”. It is a thoughtful structure that shows us how much instinctive joy can be found in play fighting, and at the same time acts as a sombre reminder of how early on fighting and violence are written off as boyish play. But as the performance wears on, it feels repetitive and doesn’t do justice to the cross-over between dance and martial arts. One can’t help but feel that even if you are here for the fighting, rather than the themes, you are likely to be let down.
And if you come for the themes rather than the fighting, there is not much improvement. Each shares stories of how they came to be stuntmen and the role violence plays in their life, but very little is done with these stories apart from relaying them. The final scene, in which a boxing match we have learned about previously is reframed to be more traumatising than triumphant, is the closest we get to getting below the surface. Lannon, Ali, and Banks have stories to share, but as they demonstrate they don’t know what to do with them. In a way that speaks to the prevalence of the themes themselves, of the difficulty men can experience expressing emotions, but it does very little to help the performance.
But the biggest problem with Stuntman is something far more fundamental – technical choices. I rarely have a harsh word to say on lighting and sound design, but Stuntman’s choices turn the performance into an endurance test. Two circular rigs of stage lights are aimed directly at the faces of the front-facing audience, and the volume is set punishingly high. If the room wasn’t as difficult to leave as it was, I suspect several audience members would have snuck out given the chance. But even forgiving the lights and sounds, SUPERFAN’s ambitions are to be admired but the final result lacks punch. Two stars.
Stuntman has completed its run at Summerhall
Photo Credit: Brian Hartley