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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Social Dance at Theatre Works' Explosives Factory - 80 minutes, without interval

Dinner is served, or at least about to be served.

That is what we are led to believe in the latest, decidedly adventurous play at Theatre Works’ Explosives Factory, Social Dance.

Talk about creating a favourable first impression.

Walk up the steep stairs to the theatre, turn left and you cast your eyes over a huge dinner table in the round.

Places have been set. All that remains is for the hosts to invite us to take our seats, which they duly do.

On the back wall are projected the words “Spittle’s Lifestyle Series Installment (they have used the American spelling) 1: Etiquette in the Modern Age.

The Spittles are a family of four. Dad, Grahame (Sam Zawadi), made his money in finance, but there is something decidedly shonky about him. Mum, Suzie (Anna Burgess), doesn’t handle stress well, but likes being the centre of attention.

Photos by Farrow Photography

Headstrong student daughter Charlie (Pascale Constance) marches to the beat of her own drum.

She enjoys goading her adopted Korean paralegal brother Toby (Andrew Hwang), who arrives sometime later.

Patrice Dubois (Heather Valentine), who is the first person we meet, appears only briefly at the beginning of the immersive play. In quick time, she lets us know that she is heading out for a smoke.

It is much more of a grand entrance when she returns. It turns out she is a French language teacher who is staying with the Spittles.

With deliberately awkward small talk, Suzie and Grahame welcome us and do little to hide the “sales” purpose of the evening ahead.

After all, they are introducing a 10-part lifestyle series, the inside story on how to exude power and affluence, and win admirers in the process.

We’re told our roast chicken and veggies’ dinner, an old family recipe, is not yet ready.

Instead, we are encouraged to partake of the bread roll on the small plate in front of us.

We are given brief back stories on each of the Spittles and Patrice, before the first real signs of trouble appear.

Let me put it this way: this is hardly going to be the friendly dinner the Spittles had intended.

Soon enough, it becomes clear there is another agenda at play for at least two of the welcoming party.

Further, when Suzie counts the number of people around the table (33), she is horrified, igniting a family curse.

Patrice’s liberal attitude to sexuality and Toby’s more playful side are aired.

There is also some insight into Grahame’s less than rosy financial status.

Suddenly, we are caught up watching a live stream of nesting Peregrine Falcons – a particular fancy of Charlie’s – on the rooftop of 367 Collins Street.

Thereafter, forget rules of etiquette. Mayhem ensues.

Combining video with live action, Social Dance is a puzzling hoot.

What to make of it all? Who knows? Just enjoy the decidedly silly and, at times, funny ride.

This is immersive theatre of the absurd, rooted in discomfort and surprise, written and directed by Laura McKenzie.

It takes a while for the production to heat up (the turning point is when Suzie calls her husband into the kitchen), but once it does, it becomes far more compelling.

Social Dance is nothing if not audacious, outlandish and outrageous.

Each of the actors is given moments to shine.

I particularly appreciated Pascale Constance’s recalcitrant characterisation of daughter Charlie. So, too, the realisation of the open-minded Patrice by Heather Valentine.

I dare say Social Dance is an experience you won’t readily forget for, mark my words, it leaves an indelible footprint.

It is on at Theatre Works’ Explosives Factory until 1st July, 2023.


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