Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford

On an almost island next to an old mill, and across from the colossal carcass of the abandoned Debenhams is the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. A 60s spaceship of a building in layers of glass and fluffy blue carpets. Guildford’s second theatre to border the slow path of the winding river Wey. Having missed the London run of Tom Dale Company’s new touring work I took myself and my partner on a little day trip.

Now I could fill this review with praise of the Watts gallery or the Tudor architecture of this cute market town on a hill….but you’re here for art aren’t you, you serious-looking thing. So, ART is what you shall get!

Touring dance pieces are normally on the classical side, budgets, and regional tastes demand the heavy hitters, and they want them BIG. So, Dale’s ambitious middle England/Wales tour is impressive right off the bat. One solo-Surge and a quartet-Sub:Version must try and meld themselves to 80s mega theatres, 60s Barbican knockoffs (Guildford) of the round or proscenium variety. Tough and tricky in the extreme!

Surge struggles with this flexibility. Normally technical issues are gracefully passed over by us of the critical profession but in this case, it is impossible not the mention. Tron on tour as I like to think of it is a collaboration between singer/dancer Jemima Brown on stage, and digital designer Barret Hodgson’s sci-fi projections and ITAL TEK thumping ethereal pre-recorded tunes. It’s clubby, techno, and space age and therefore should be deafening. Like being trapped inside the Prometheus at lift-off or inside Fabric on a Saturday night.

Sadly, this was not the case, a speaker blew out pretty quickly and the whole soundtrack cut out twice for a good 5 seconds each time. Brown glided on unphased like a true champ. The effect is a rather quiet, flat version of the envisioned surging piece. Tom Dale’s choreography in creation with Brown is not without merit as our soloist extends her limbs through panes of light dissecting the space like angry lasers. Geraldine Wharrey, Cristiano Casimiro, and Kate Morgan’s work on the costume give us a nice symbiont effect in white skin-tight cutouts and striped face makeup. When the crescendo asks for a swirling storm of shapes projected from above the energy crackles in the air around us, however fleetingly.

However overall, the lack of narrative plunges us into the ever-questioning why. The sci-fi-ness is vague, the projection is a little dated, being only from above, and with a lack of complex interaction with the performer. Despite Brown’s lovely singing voice, this reminds us there’s a reason people don’t sing while doing a demanding experimental dance routine. As her voice is understandably shaky.

After an interval spent sipping wine while trying to look at the picturesque river and not the rotten shell of the now-dead department store, we are back at it again.

This time for Sub:Version, an ironically rather tame piece set in a rave or club basement. In odd what looks like football jerseys with tie dye stains on them our five dancers romp and writhe through a simplistic projection series again from above. WEN’s soundtrack brings back my raver days so effectively that I feel an acid flashback coming on, but again the tinny speakers (unsurprising for a theatre that’s almost 70 years old) undermine the world created.

Dan Baines, Jemima Brown (again), Tom O’Gorman, Rose Ellen Lewis, and Meghan Stevens have a nice back-and-forth. They melt from solos to pas de deux, and into the most arresting group movements. Brown dominates with her shaved skull and arching limbs, showing not a speck of exhaustion from already dancing a whole piece in the first act. Thankfully there is no singing.

The collaborative choreography is more interesting than Surge and we get flashes of contemporary dance style, especially in a nice moment of crumping in blue spotlights. Dancers spin down to the floor, lifted by one another in messy, morphing movements. It’s this sense of reality that is by far the highlight of the evening. They look just like people, young and free, with maybe a couple too many non-prescription pharmaceuticals in their veins, extending their hand out for connection and love.

Despite my appreciation of a tour of this nature both pieces wallow in the metaphorical river, hoping that the audience will just swim along politely in the direction suggested. There is talent in these waters, and a range of skilled creatives, but the evening as a whole leaves you rather stranded in the shallows.