★★★ | Dancing with the Devil
Rudolph Nureyev was one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century. His colourful life and volatile personality make him a fascinating study and a perfect subject for drama. Aletta Lawson has taken an inspired premise of looking at Nureyev’s life in retrospect via his dying delusions. Starting in his Parisian flat in the early 1990s we see Nureyev in his early 50s, weak and frail, in denial about his imminent death from an AIDS. related illness. He opens and closes a jewellery box, conjuring up hallucinations of his most famous dance partner Margot Fonteyn (who sits on a lit podium like a ballerina on a spring in a child’s music box). His memories drift back to his early life, through to his present illness.
The program contains a writer’s note stating that the play isn’t intended to be a biography. Bizarrely, the play then runs as a biography with a whistle stop and often superficial imagining of key events in Nureyev’s life. We briefly glimpse a troubled childhood, the discovery of his talent, his defection to the West, his love affair with Eric Bruhn and some of the more show-business aspects of his stardom. It’s a lot to fit into ninety minutes and the play suffers for this, often failing to have impact or to convincingly engage with emotional events.
Benny Maslov is spookily reminiscent of Nureyev and he works well within the confines of an often-clumsy and occasionally mawkish script. The moments where he dances are illuminating and captivating although sadly sparse. He captures a multi-faceted character perfectly, veering from petulant arrogance, passionate perfectionism through to glimpses of vulnerability and fragility.
There are some good scenes such as the one where Rudolph and Eric first meet or the occasional interactions with Nureyev and Fonteyn. Sadly, these are few and far between and the play feels bogged down by its awkward dialogue and occasionally clumsy presentation. Some of the accents feel like they belong in terrible 1980s sit-com ‘Allo ‘Allo and the acting is variable with some uncomfortable moments that are painfully pantomime where the comedy falls entirely flat.
This is worth seeing for Maslov’s performance alone but that aside this is a 5 star performance from an accomplished actor and dancer in a 2 star play.
Dancing with the Devil plays at Sadlers Well until 29th of June 2016