The premise of Jasmin Vardimon’s Park feels even more current now than when the piece was created, 10 years ago. The setting is a decaying urban park – home to assorted drifters, down-and-outs and a crumbling mermaid statue; but is also, as smart-suited, well-heeled Luke Burrough explains at the opening, an enticing prospect for property developers, lured by lucre’s siren call.
Part human, part animal, protecting angel and wily seductress, the mermaid seems to embody the spirit of the park. Several times, the cast transform into creatures. Fleeing a fight, vagrant David Lloyd scampers up a lamp-post, shrieking like a chimp; pugnacious yob Uroš Petronijevic turns puppyish when tamed by the cuckoo calls of passing shopper Silke Muys, who later flops fish-like on the floor, a sleeping bag for a tail.
The style is ferociously physical: the dancers throw themselves and each other about; they dive, hurtle and crash. At its best, Vardimon’s choreography seems to wrench a bruising truth from its performers. When Petronijevic waves an English flag, the cast stagger and reel, battered by his storm-force nationalism. An almost corny skating duet for Muys (wearing carrier bags on her feet) and Estéban Fourmi brims with a kind of desperate poetry. Swinging their arms obsessively to the words of a Beatles’ song – “nothing’s going to change my world” – the dancers seem to be flailing against fate.
Yet like its odds-and-sods characters, the piece itself is a ragbag. The collage format suits the surreal mix of roles, moods and music, but too many scenes feel off-target, whether overstretched or too abrupt, slightly lightweight or heavy-handed. So when the ending – which packs a real punch – finally arrives, we don’t feel we’ve quite arrived with it.