The stage is bright and sparse, a big space for a solo performer. The only set is a small table with a bottle of water and some scribbled notes. I hope that she will use the space, rather than let it swallow her, and she does not disappoint. In fact, the best moments are the theatrical snippets and dance demonstrations where she unapologetically takes up space, basking in our enjoyment.
Warren begins with a burst of energy, announcing “What an entrance!” as she strides centre stage, arms outstretched. In a polished opening sequence we are invited into Warren’s world and given a tour. Her brand of humour is slightly self-deprecating, but light. Expressive and offbeat, she circles from personal introductions (“spoiler alert, I’m a Libra”) to optometrist-based jokes for the glasses wearers in the audience (although I am slightly thrown by her lack of eyewear and no mention of contact lenses).
The show takes its first nostalgic turn with a comically swift lighting shift to a purple spot. (Thanks to Sasha on the lighting deck, who is referenced throughout). We are vaulted back to 1996 and what should have been Warren’s big break: four-year-old Maddy dancing her heart out at the Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park opening. Sadly, she quit before the big show and this crisis of confidence has haunted her dance moves ever since. We then cycle through her performance highlights, including a delightful reimagining of her unspoken inn keeper role in the school nativity, in which she hilariously mimes all the parts. Since then most of her ‘gigs’ involved playing a man at her all girls high school. This resonates with me, a trained actor, who always struggled to find juicy female roles. Also relatable was her commentary on ridiculous beauty standards for teenage girls and how this intersected with her struggle with dance. These comments had heart and depth and gave the show an underlying sense of purpose.
At twenty-five minutes in, the energy takes a sudden nosedive. Warren sidles off towards the table mid-story, to sneak a peek at her notes. She makes a joke about how far they are from where she was standing and I chuckle along with the rest of the audience. Disappointingly, this sets a precedent for the show’s unraveling. The notes soon become a main feature as Warren loses her place time and time again. The ‘stealing a glance’ joke becomes stale and I start to feel nervous for her whenever she stumbles.
I’m impressed by some clever visual gags (including the best costume reveal I’ve seen live) and her charisma. She keeps me engaged even when the narrative gets lost. But the climax, a reveal of a shovelled-in metaphor about choreography, does not land. The idea is great and I certainly see a version where it flies. However, a payoff that good deserves a far better set up.
We are later told that the title came first. Admittedly, it’s a fantastic title, but when Warren divulges that procrastination led to a last minute script, written in the three days before a development run at Fringe, I am unimpressed. She hints that this version was equally rushed. For the $20 ticket I would expect a greater commitment to preparation and presentation.The material feels underdeveloped for this stage in the show’s journey.
On the whole the show feels both overwritten and under rehearsed. Warren is a talented storyteller who definitely belongs in the spotlight, rather than backstage: “the only place where whispering isn’t weird.” But at the end of the day, I expect more precision from a solo hour.
Dancing on my Own is on until Saturday 13th July at 6pm at BATS. Tickets are available here.