Trying to write about Chris Goode’s latest Ponyboy Curtis show vs. is like trying to fit a hurricane into a canning jar. The energy, love and freedom on the Yard’s stage is irrevocably alive and unrestrained, and trying to pin this one-of-a-kind butterfly onto a page kills it a little, or a lot. So take this review as a tiny sample of an extravagant banquet that can only be fully experienced directly.
Of course that’s the case with all theatre and performance, but vs. is a particularly special case. This rough-and-tumble exploration/celebration of brotherhood, queerness, bodies, ritual, territory and probably a load of other things is to be seen rather than read about.
Known for its sexuality, vs. doesn’t feel like it’s dominated by sex. It’s masculine and queer, but the total opposite of the toxic masculinity that threatens female safety and male mental health. There’s some fighting and kissing and intimate touching, but none of them becomes the focus. Inspired by Stravinsky’s The Rites of Spring, playful rivalry is more at the forefront. Goode’s choreography has balletic qualities, but also plenty of influence from sport and team dynamics, and its subsequent homoeroticism. There is no restraint or holding back – it’s thrilling and feels almost totally spontaneous.
A large circle of clothing items makes a wrestling wring of sorts, but it does little to contain the ponyboys and quickly becomes a costume store from which they pick and chose items that are donned and discarded at remarkable speed. This could be a comment on superficiality, or identity, or something else entirely. In any case, the gradual transition from order to chaos is delightful.
There’s hardly any speech, and the recorded voiceover at the end isn’t needed, but neither does it particularly detract. This is physical theatre and live art in its most elemental, and masculinity in its lease threatening, most harmonious manifestation.
vs. isn’t gratuitous, but it’s intimate and exposing and often feels like watching a young man’s most private moments and fantasies. It’s transgressive, raw and packs the power of an electrical storm within the bodies of six young men. It must be seen to begin to be understood. Having not seen the previous Ponyboy Curtis works, I’m certainly not going to miss future ones.
Ponyboy Curtis vs. runs through 17 June.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.