“You’re a very short time living,” the five performers chirp, “and a long, long, long time dead!” The gallows humour is typical of Dancing On Your Grave, a marvellously morbid song-and-dance act by choreographer Lea Anderson and musicians Steve Blake and Nigel Burch. On a stage the size of a boxing ring, the two musicians are jostled by three dancers: Ryan Perkins-Gagnes, a doleful pierrot; Gabrielle McNaughton, raddled in fishnets and feathers; and doll-like Maho Ihara. The premise is that a troupe of low-life music-hall artists, all deceased, are playing to a gallery of the living – us.
The backbone of the piece are the songs – deadpan ditties about mortality, remembrance and dissolution in which Blake and Burch’s evident delight in finding rhymes (“torso” with “more so”; “muscles” with “corpuscles”) is offset by the plaintive strumming of their ukuleles. The songs range from drunkard’s philosophising (Descartes is pooh-poohed) to bleary remorse – Burch regretting his mistreatment of his old lover, McNaughton. She, meanwhile, is blithely kicking up her heels, over the moon that the bastard’s finally under the sod, and the whole cast join in for the killer refrain – “we are all single when we are dead!” – gleefully repeating the punchline as if banging nails into coffins.
Mostly, the choreography acts as sidekick to the lyrics, illustrating the musical scenarios and sentiments. But sometimes it comes into its own, as in an unsettling duet where Perkins-Gagnes is tenderly attentive to a lifeless, floppy-limbed Ihara. Best of all is Ihara’s wickedly matter-of-fact suicide inventory, miming how innards spurt outwards in cases of throat-cutting, gut-spilling and brain-blasting, or indicating freefall from a great height by upflung arms and a silent scream.