It took courage to step out into the windy, rain-lashed night to struggle into central London on Monday to see Lindsay Kemp strut his stuff in his 'Dreamdances' at the Peacock Theatre. Sad to report, it took even more courage not to jump ship at half-time.
It was my first sight of the revered Kemp, who has worked with many theatrical and cinematic greats. The programme notes outlined his collaborations with Ken Russell and Derek Jarman as well as several operatic ouvres; his work with the emerging David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust tour is also mentioned. He is obviously a seasoned and confident stage performer, with a natural grace of movement - he trained as a dancer - and an understanding and love of music underscoring that grace. The problem seems to be that - on the evidence of this show anyway - he doesn't have a great deal of actual creative talent, or at least his creative talent is too thinly stretched between the different theatrical disciplines of drama, dance and music to provide real muscle for any of them. Where he is brilliantly talented is as a showman, a putter-together of music, colour, and movement to make a make a more or less satisfying whole. On this occasion, unfortunately, it was a less satisfying whole.
The programme opened with 'Memories of a Traviata' which gave Kemp an opportunity, with bald head and crinoline dress, to indulge himself in a camp diva representation of every consumptive operatic heroine you can think of ; at one point he 'coughed' several times into a handkerchief, the coughs syncopated exactly on the rythm of the music. The effect was comic and the audience laughed, but I wondered if we were meant to laugh at all; if , actually, he was being quite serious. It was that kind of show.
One of the biggest disappointments was that, whilst the other two performers spoke, Kemp at no time spoke on stage himself, though his voice was heard in recorded voiceovers. I realise he is celebrated 'mime' artist, but how much better his silly stabs at both Nijinski and Salieri would have been if he had simply spoken in his own voice with the assistance of the music rather than relying on facial mugging and elaborate arm movements to tell these now rather obscure stories.
But there's no doubting his theatrical genius. Watching him, you realise how cutting-edge he must have been thirty or so years ago, when the campness which has always been an inherent part of the theatrical experience was just beginning to emerge from the closet. Now, it is all too sadly familiar, and watching Kemp on Monday night was rather like watching a camp gay chum poncing around his livingroom in an eiderdown doing his imitation of 'Tosca'. That doesn't mean he can't bring off a few genuinely stunning coups de theātre, of course; Nuria Moreno being borne aloft wrapped in sheets will linger in the memory, as will the storm of rose petals exploding from her hands to the strains of the Liebestod from 'Tristan und Isolde'(a genuine chills-down-the-spine moment).
Moreno and Marco Berriel provided Kemp with gutsy support, but were given scant opportunity to shine through the ten numbers making up this kitsch, dated and rather amateurish evening. A pity, because both are obviously gifted dancers
At the interval someone stepped on the back of my shoe while I was making my way out of the auditorium, causing me to stumble slightly. It turned out to be a charmingly apologetic Julian Clary (much taller than you'd think from seeing him on the telly) and, sad to say, I'll probably remember this evening for him rather than for Lindsay Kemp.