99.9 Degrees

Wed 1st – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

Julia Chapman

at 10:05 on 5th Aug 2012

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(Warning: This review contains spoilers)

Brimming with subtle brilliance, '99.9 Degrees' is an enormously inventive piece of new writing, the strength of which shines through in the little details. Blending classical and contemporary genres of music, the show moves almost seamlessly between spoken word and movement pieces, uniquely choreographed to riveting effect.

It starts with a bang in the form of an energetically choreographed sequence. The scene is a stag do, with a particularly clever plank of wood being used to great effect as both a bar and a stripper pole, providing a unique tool around which the scene could be moulded.

Suddenly, the five performers are hostages, three with bags on their heads and four with their hands bound. An explanation of the reasoning behind the selective binding is never provided, and this is the first of several questions that beg to be answered in the same gripping manner as the rest of the story is told.

Throughout the remainder of the play, the characters discuss their perilous situation whilst reminiscing about their lives pre-captivity. Each memory delved into was told through dance, with modern music layered over classical, emphasising the increasing tensions in each memory with powerful melodic tunes. Lighting helped to convey transitions through time, although these were made amply clear by the change from conversation to dance.

The reminiscences were danced, the hostage situation spoken. What was disappointing was that only three of the characters danced into their memories, and the stories of the other two characters were only touched upon. The show could quite easily have been twice as long and still suspended disbelief. The dream-like sequences into which the characters regressed comprised of a moment of ‘desperate, inept sexual brevity’, the rise and fall of a marriage and the heroin-filled lifestyle of a former musician, and all three were fascinating pieces.

Contextually, the audience is provided with intermittent news reports, informing us that a hostage situation has emerged in protest of Guantanamo Bay. The terrorists are never seen, but a mobile phone mysteriously appears in what seems like an attempt on the part of the captors to play out some sort of experiment in the politics of imprisonment. This, however, is never fulfilled.

The cast both acted and danced proficiently, with impressive performances from every member. The stand-out names were Hayley Thompson and John Askew, who wrote, directed and choreographed the piece as well as performing. These recent York University graduates have enormous potential.

In the end, the hostages are permitted to make a single phone call. The character the group selects telephones the woman he secretly loves and asks her to teach him how to dance over the phone, in fulfillment of an earlier promise to take up ballroom dancing together. He begins to dance on his own, and the other characters follow suit in a ghostly dance without partners. This continues throughout the audience’s exit, leaving a beautiful but melancholy image.

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Yara Rodrigues Fowler

at 10:18 on 5th Aug 2012

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(Warning: This review contains spoilers)

The number in the title ‘99.9’ referring the boiling point of water, this show is a situational drama written by John Askew and Hayley Thomspon, (directed by the former and featuring both) which combines original choreography, music, and writing with the acting talent of Jack in the Box Productions. It tells the story of five hostages - held in protest against the Guantanamo bay - and uses flashbacks to explore and compare their pasts.

The flashbacks were without a doubt my favourite part of the play - clear, creative and executed for the most part in dance to remixed classical music. Dance allowed the cast to express emotion without cliché and enrich the audience's visual and aural experience; Thomspon and Palmer danced especially well, doing full justice to the Brahms, Strauss and Tchaikovsky pieces played. Apart from a few transitions that were slightly too abrupt, music and sound was generally well-managed with recordings of the news from the outside world being played to indicate the passage of time and the development of negotiations.

The acting and script was unfortunately not as original as the dancing and music; however it was competent throughout, reaching poignant highs as the characters confronted the likelihood of their certain death. Herein lies the limitation of the script and thus of acting: it is constrained by a plot moved by generic events, which, explored in insufficient depth, turn into cliché, losing any cleverness. An example would be the premise of the hostage situation, which prompted the beginnings of a discussion on torture but refused to develop. Employed so briefly, mention of the names John Stuart Mill and Kant demonstrated only a superficial understanding of the relevant concepts, and there was no later reference to the hostages' own moral position as captives held for the release of others. This would have added dimension to the script, and perhaps enabled the actors to escape the on-stage breakdown which is so overdone at the fringe.

As a result, each of the actors had strong and weak moments - Rory Hern playing youthful nervousness with a well-tuned balance of cringe, fear and sweetness, running into slight awkwardness with his dance representation of premature ejaculation. Peter Marshall and Hayley Thompson both delivered convincing performances plagued by unoriginal plotting and language; Marshall’s character history in particular, that of a failed rockstar-turned-heroin addict, felt impersonal and unengaging.

In the final scene the group is allowed one final phone call which it gives to Askew’s character, whose delivery of the conversation, together with his dancing, is both haunting and original: here ‘99.9 Degrees’ achieves real pathos.

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