In children’s theatre for this age range, It’s rare to see people put their clothes on correctly first time round. Theatremakers know that they’re pretty much guaranteed a giggle every time a jacket is put on backwards, and whenever a head pops out of a sweater’s sleeve rather than its neckline (in case you’re wondering, other things likely to get a laugh are wiggling bums and burping).
This clothes comedy works because everyone in the room knows what clothes are and how they’re meant to function, so it’s fun to see an adult forget the rules and be silly. Creating theatre for a young audience, you can’t take this mass accessibility for granted; to repeat a previous review: ‘with a room full of people who have only been experiencing the world for a handful of years, it’s important to find material that everyone has a basic working knowledge of’. Sometimes that ‘material’ is, literally, material – in a world of dressing up boxes and new school uniforms, one thing the whole audience will know about is clothes.
So, because of its comic potential and relevance, Second Hand Dance are certainly not the first company to make a dance piece around clothes. Getting Dressed calls to mind Colette Sadler and Stammer Productions’ show We Are The Monsters, as odd creatures created by unconventional clothing arrangements stalk the stage. The show is also a bit like Tamsyn Russell Dance’s Go Get ‘em Kid, as piles of t-shirts, dresses and hats keep appearing, to be chucked about, or put on, or quickly gathered up. And the final sequence – the sartorial equivalent of a food fight – is similar to the last moments of Aracaladanza’s Constelaciones. Getting Dressed has the qualities of all of these shows – it is silly and playful, zany and colourful – yet still manages to bring something new to these apparel-based productions.
In a particularly memorable sequence unlike anything I’ve seen before, jackets dangling on their hangers begin to ‘dance’ while performer Darragh Butterworth mimicks their movements until he and the quilted coats seem to be performing a routine. It is Butterworth again who finds some of the most inventive ways to get into an outfit – he somersaults into a tank top, and is later held horizontally and inserted into a pair of trousers.
It’s not only that Butterworth and the other two dancers, Keir Patrick and Ellen Stakin, keep putting arms into their trouser legs and tights on their head, but that what they wear ignores gender lines – Patrick, for instance, wears a tweed skirt, to the audience’s delight. Not to mention when the performers do away with clothes altogether, with Butterworth in his boxers and Stakin in a bra, a daring move that a company like Fevered Sleep would be proud of. Getting Dressed celebrates sparkly tops and silly hats, delights in the textures and movement of different garments, and encourages an appreciation of clothes motivated by fun rather than self-consciousness. But it is also a more progressive, subversive take on clothes than you might expect.
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