Brand new or just brand?, asked the message board as we left DV8’s Living Costs at Tate Modern. Well, not brand new: it is a partial though substantial reworking of Cost of Living (2000). Just brand? A much more pertinent question, and a central theme of Lloyd Newson’s piece, which takes the audience on a tour through the Tate, with scenes from low-art clowning to high-art ballet, by way of vaudeville, pop, circus and fashion.
Our smooth-talking guide is Wendy Houstoun, a combination of arts presenter and PR professional. She eases our passage with gentle instructions and reassuring commentary. “Newson moves us to a higher level,” she urges, as we ascend an escalator. “The wheels of fortune keep turning,” she prompts, while bikini-clad Kareena Oates hula-hoops a ring of fire. There is a game show performed in Ziegfeld Follies costume, where everyone is a contestant but no one is a winner. Rowan Thorpe bops ecstatically to Celine Dion.
everyone is a contestant but no one is a winner
Rows of identikit models in chic black numbers announce the Tate 2003 Collection. Finally, when we get to the top floor, a trio of dancer-types go through minimal modern-ballet motions, all pointy feet and pointy arms.
The choreography is no great shakes, but it looks stunning against the London night sky. Ah, location, location… Bolshy Scotsman Eddie Kay is having none of it. Ripping off his clown mask, he rants: “I hate this job, where’s my minimum wage, what are you looking at?” Later, he pogos ineffectually, his rebellious posturing constrained by Thorpe’s arm on his shoulder. At the end Kay gives the dancers the slow-hand clap, pissed off as ever.
The audience is split into colour-coded groups: some of us sit, some stand and a select elite receive preferential treatment as if they were corporate sponsors (of which Living Costs has many, among them the Guardian as media partner). The show probes the hierarchies of art, who gets to the top and who’s left out in the cold, the gaps between the come-on and the pay-off. But the ideas are stronger than the execution, which often mirrors rather than ironises its subject.