Founded in 2003, the company Stan Won’t Dance hit the ground running with their acclaimed physical-theatre piece Sinner, but tripped over the follow-up, Revelations. Babel, their latest stage work, sees them back on form. The piece is based on a film that features Patrick Neate’s poetry, which delivers a blistering attack on the corrosive power of political and commercial language, and of its unthinking acceptance.
The film had a documentary feel, but this stage production is more mythic, with a post-apocalyptic setting – two burnt-out cars, a ruined crucifix, shadows everywhere – and a cast of five Identi-Kit men, faces obscured under hoodies. The words feel less targeted towards ordinary life than in the film, but are loaded with more physical punch. As one man raps bitterly into a mic, another tumbles through the air as if thrown by the words; a tin-pot orator atop a wrecked car marshals his audience with a speech comprising nothing but brand names; a tight-knit group, in thrall to the lottery tickets they hold, stand stock still before bursting into bouts of synchronised bopping.
This is a big, ambitious work, its anger spiked with acid humour. The performers switch seamlessly between recitation, dance and acting, and the subject matter is vast: social networking, shopping, race, honour killings, youth stabbings, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib; and above all, the media. Not every scene hits its mark, and the rush of words can leave you reeling. But it is the bigger picture that the piece is after: society, not people; language, not words. You may not always like the ideas or the aggressive, declamatory, masculine tone, but Babel will have you all talking about it.