Theatre is well and truly a product of the left, with mainstream and commercial work often comfortably centrist at the most. It’s rare to come across right wing work, particularly something as extreme as Billy Cowan’s The Right Ballerina. His depiction of the ruination of a naive prima ballerina (discovered to be a member of a far right political party by an international human rights charity) brutally demonises the so-called ‘PC Brigade’ and champions the individual’s right to quietly choose their affiliations and get on with their life as long as they aren’t causing anyone direct harm.
Watching the play is a deeply uncomfortable experience, particularly when the charity’s spokesman behaves so despicably towards a young woman who just wants to dance and start a family. Though there is a copious amount of this discomfort that comes from an emotional response clashing with one’s belief systems, The Right Ballerina voices a perspective rarely seen on stage and has the potential for fostering reflection on the easy dismissal of right wing points of view and the feelings of the people that hold them.
Cowan’s script is well-formed and detailed, giving plenty of time for dancer Penny’s fall from a great height to feel believable and tragic. There’s an element of stereotyping in camp company director Trevor and suited, multinational representative Mr X. But Penny and the company’s artistic director Jack are intricate, humanly flawed and alive. Dialogue-heavy and a touch too long, it could do with a bit of trimming but too much would force the narrative. The only letdown is the highly unlikely ending, but the rest of the script is generally sound.
Filip Krenus as Mr X, representative of an organisation protesting the ballet company’s performances due to Penny’s party membership, is of panto villain proportions and easy to hate in the face of his cold, relentless bullying. Gregory A Smith’s Trevor is more than a bit of a young Nathan Lane, though he deserves more stage time and development. Adam Grayson and Genevieve Berkeley-Steele as Jack and Penny have excellent emotional range and chemistry. Berkeley-Steele’s fighting strength in the face of her victimisation generates plenty of empathy, even though she’s anti-immigration/racist.
Boaz Torfstein’s design is Jack’s office, crafted with lots of little details down to the pointe shoes on a bookcase and stunning costume displays from past productions. Matthew Gould’s direction is suitably subtle and works well in the slightly irregularly-shaped venue, though his fight choreography is clumsy.
In spite of a few issues with the script and production, the perspective unapologetically presented here certainly deserves stage time even though it flies in the face of left wing sentiment that fuels our theatre. Though The Right Ballerina is angering and provocative, its story is certainly a thought-provoking one.
The Right Ballerina runs through 22 October.
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