Ash, VAULT Festival

Smoking used to be a sexy, glamorous thing that doctors recommended for good health and vitality. Even with modern regulations and acceptance that smoking kills, some people still puff with pride like people did back then. The Yorkshire town where Ash is set loves smoking, and the residents aren’t set to quit anytime soon – George Crozier certainly isn’t planning to. Juxtaposing the salt-of-the-earth, working class town with vintage cigarette adverts and rock n’ roll, Ash chronicles one man’s life through his smoking. Witty and clever with a good dose of playful physicality, it’s a multi-level critique of the tobacco industry executed with plenty of inventiveness.

A lengthy exposition of movement and music establishes a mundane, small-town life and the need to escape the everyday. It would stand up to some cutting in order to introduce George faster, though once we see the young boy nicking fags from his mum’s handbag the story progresses at a good pace. He quickly grows up, moves out, finds a job and falls in love. Every single one of these pivotal moments is framed by smoking. As adult life is punctuated with grief and doctor appointments, the cigarettes are always there escorting George to a predictable, but nevertheless sad, ending. Humour and seriousness are employed realistically amongst physicalised transitions, making for a stylistically varied piece but one that is precise and deliberate in it’s choices.

Between snapshots from George’s life, the ensemble use suitcases hand painted as cigarette cartons to establish the tobacco culture that dominates George’s world. What no doubt felt innocuous at the time comes across as sinister and threatening now, even with the casual charm with which the company executes the choreography. Some of these sequences lack finesse, but still have impact. They also provoke the lingering consideration of what will be the next malicious threat to health in modern society – mobile phones? Meat? Cheap clothing? It could be anything.

This is an excellent piece from new company Bric a Brac. Though a few minor adjustments wouldn’t go amiss and its impact takes some time to land, it’s a strong offer from VAULT Festival this year.

Ash runs through 12 February.

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