“Dandy in the Underworld” is a play about the extravagant U.K. artist Sebastian Horsley.
With gallows humor, it presents Horsley’s thoughts on beautiful clothes, drugs, suicide, sex and being crucified for artistic kicks. On June 17, two days after the play opened, he was found dead from a suspected overdose. Horsley was 47.
His memory will live on in Tim Fountain’s one-man show, which stars Milo Twomey as Horsley. The June 17 performance was canceled as a mark of respect. The rest of the run continues as scheduled in his honor.
The play is based on Horsley’s memoir of the same name, and recreates the subject’s Soho flat for its set. It offers us Horsley’s thoughts on his desire for whores (“Regular women are a poor substitute for prostitutes”), monogamy (“a perversion”), and couture (“I had a special pocket sewn into each jacket to accommodate my heroin syringes”).
Horsley once said that it was better to be quotable than honest, and his style proves to be a light mix of Oscar Wilde and Quentin Crisp. When he recounts his August 2000 trip to the Philippines to be crucified “to see what it was like,” the result is a mix of farce and bleakness. “The foot support collapsed and the whole thing fell forward onto the screaming villagers. They were terribly sweet about it.” He adds: “Jesus died to save humanity. I did it to save my career.”
Horsley was famous for expensive, brightly colored suits. “Being a dandy is a condition rather than a profession,” he says in the show. “It is a defense against suffering.” Twomey doesn’t delve into the pain under the glitter, yet the paradoxes of Horsley’s strange life are clear.
Horsley would no doubt have appreciated the contradiction of a play about him opening at the same time as a show about macho, beer-drinking tap dancers.
The Olivier Award-winning “Tap Dogs,” created by Dein Perry, has been touring the world for 15 years, and arrives in London with new routines at the Novello Theatre. It involves six burly male dancers in construction-worker gear, a rough scaffolding set loosely resembling a building site, and more wordless energy than seems possible to fit into 90 minutes.
In the most imaginative routine, four of the men create showers of orange sparks by rhythmically tapping electric welders against the scaffolding. The lead dancer Adam Garcia, in a welding mask, performs a stomping solo among the descending fireworks, and the effect is magical.
Other highlights include an amusing upside-down dance, in which one of the men is hoisted by ropes to tap on the ceiling, a fast basketball number and a playful water routine which drenches anyone in the front rows of the stalls.
It’s technically impressive, yet it also outstays its welcome. There’s not enough variety of tone, and director Nigel Triffitt doesn’t pace the peaks and troughs to create much sense of journey. The relationship between the dancers only extends to the odd bit of shoulder-punching and high-fiving. To misquote Hamlet’s mother, the show could do with less matter and more art. Rating: **.
“Tap Dogs” is at the Novello Theatre through Sept. 5. Information: http://www.tapdogs.co.uk or +44-844-482-5170.
“Dandy in the Underworld” is at the Soho Theatre until July 10. Information: http://www.sohotheatre.com or call +44-20- 7478-0100.
(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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To contact the writer on the story: Warwick Thompson, in London, at firstname.lastname@example.org.