Monochrome make-up, over-sized cigars and manic choral singing are only a few features you’ll find in the stylised theatre of the Dead Iconics. The company tend to favour style over substance and the visual feast is worth a look. It’s an ambitious and imaginative effort; however the show’s wackiness needs to be better kept in check in order for the talents of the cast to be fully exploited. Even taking into account the abstract quality of Tadeusz Kantor (the Polish dramatist who the company cite as an inspiration), the lack of structure or purpose means it’s a challenge to invest in the piece.
Superficially, the Dead Iconics are indeed fabulous, however a greater attention to detail would give their fabulous style a backbone of substance.
It’s tricky to outline any basic narrative, but I’ll do my best. As the title suggests, we are celebrating a one-hundredth Birthday. The drama circles around the ensemble’s chaotic attempts to prepare for its celebration, but in a classic absurdist trope the birthday boy never finally shows up. This premise is often forgotten and feels to be a rather tenuous excuse for the action which follows. With names like Holy Hell, Sharon, Blockhead, and Naomi Campbell, the ‘iconic’ characters are deeply ambiguous. A shouting Winston Churchill figure desperately tries to navigate between scenes.
This cast of cartoonish imps move jerkily around the stage, forming grotesque shapes, and performing in a mix of combinations, through mime, physical theatre, ballet, and song. The cast sing well together and I enjoyed the eerily beautiful melodies and incantations interspersed throughout the action. Odd moments of comedy emerge through whimsical little set pieces. When The Mossiah loses his head under the exaggerated shoulders of his costume, he requires a crank to bring it back up into place.
Production managers Heather Graham and Ian Skinner must be praised for the artistry behind the set and makeup. Empty clear bottles hang from the ceiling like the sort of edgy art installation you might find in a Shoreditch café. Each costume is fantastically inventive. One of my favourites was a bun’s hair tie and neck-collar linked together by thin bars, forming a cage around the performer’s face.
Unfortunately through, the scenes, songs, and characters are not quite distinct enough to make an impression. Last year’s Against Nothingness from Pulse53 employed an almost identical aesthetic to far greater effect, due to the strength of the music, the clarity of the characterisation, and the evident thinking behind the piece. In order to emulate Pulse53’s success in this style, The Dead Iconics need to score on each three points.
One of the randomly declared lines from My 100th Birthday is: ‘May the power of Christ compel you to be… fabulous!’ Superficially, the Dead Iconics are indeed fabulous, however a greater attention to detail would give their fabulous style a backbone of substance.