Death and Dancing at OVO’s St Albans Pudding Lane theatre

HAVING recently raved about the performance of the two leads in the Company of Ten’s most recent production, I didn’t expect to see another stunning two-hander quite so soon afterwards.

But down at the city’s newest theatre, OVO at Pudding Lane, locally-based touring theatre company Peppermint Muse put on a mesmerising performance of Claire Dowie’s play Death and Dancing.

In fact so good were the performances of Lisa White and Stephen Cunningham and the direction by John Stenhouse – all names known to St Albans audiences – that the writer herself came to see it and gave the company her seal of approval.

The two characters are both called Max but one is male and one is female – He and She.

They are both gay and meet at university where they are poles apart in so many ways but share an understanding of how people are labelled as a result of their sexual predilection.

But while, as John Stenhouse says in his programme notes, the play is about searching for identity it succeeds because it is built around two fascinating characters who are introduced both to each other and the audience as they dance on to the set.

Stephen Cunningham as the far more vulnerable of the two characters – an American with an endearing gaucheness which could be read as naivety – gives an amazingly-strong performance as He.

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The scene where She persuades him to dress up in women’s clothes is genuinely funny, not least because of his amazing range of facial expressions and sheer acting ability.

Lisa White, with her hair scraped back from her face to give a manly air, is a perfect foil as She.

A far more streetwise character who was brought up in a children’s home, she is the more sorted of the two and dominates He on nearly every occasion because she is far more certain about herself and life itself.

The stage at OVO at Pudding Lane is tiny and lends itself to small productions without too many characters – Death and Dancing was perfect for its size and the intimate atmosphere.

Tightly directed by John Stenhouse, it used only the minimum of props and he relied on the abilities of the actors to demonstrate such missing features as the mirror in which He preens in his dress and even Speaker’s Corner where She is holding forth forcibly – they did not disappoint at any turn.