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‘Dirty Crusty’ review

  • Theatre, Experimental
  • 2 out of 5 stars
  1. Photograph: Maurizio Martorana
    Photograph: Maurizio Martorana
  2. Photograph: Maurizio Martorana
    Photograph: Maurizio Martorana
  3. Photograph: Maurizio Martorana
    Photograph: Maurizio Martorana
  4. Photograph by Maurizio Martorana
    Photograph by Maurizio Martorana

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Clare Barron’s deeply troubling new play is a depiction of a thirtysomething woman whose life is spinning out of control

Yep, the protagonist of ‘Dirty Crusty’ is pretty filthy. But really, twice-worn underwear and a bedroom floor carpeted with mouldering clothes are the least of her problems. American playwright Clare Barron’s ‘Dance Nation’ won over Almeida audiences with a goofy, dark, but essentially warm portrait of a pre-teen dance troupe. Her follow-up is a much grimmer, stickier thing, and no amount of ballet sequences can make it pretty.

Jeanine (Akiya Henry) is a 31-year-old woman who’s going through a rough time; the kind where she makes inexplicable decisions, floats into uncomfortable situations, does things just because someone seems to want her to. One of those things is dating Victor (Douggie McMeekin), a ‘nice guy’ who won’t take one single step outside his comfort zone (a nipple tweak goes down very badly) but who constantly presses her to go outside hers. His hobby is making masks (?!), and these white, eyeless faces peer out of the curtained section of the stage that’s marked out as his room. The other one of those things is theoretically more benign: Jeanine catches a glimpse of Synda (Abiona Omonua) practising her pirouettes, and decides to take up ballet.

‘Dirty Crusty’ shows how extremes can coexist in one life: Jeanine lives in depressed filth, is abandonedly sexy with Victor, is precisely elegant at ballet. Jay Miller’s elegant production divides the stage into distinct areas, discreetly hidden with curtains on electric tracks that slowly reveal horrors, like something from a mortuary viewing room. Barron’s dialogue is astute, observing the minutiae of coercion and hidden pain. McMeekin’s performance is a rare, nicely drawn portrait of how superficial niceness and profound selfishness can come together in one affable package.

I’m writing all this to say that I get what ‘Dirty Crusty’ is doing, I think. But (and this paragraph necessarily contains major spoilers) I also don’t think it’s in control of what it’s representing, any more than Jeanine’s in control of her life. It depicts a woman who’s broken, but has a kind of vague level of hope in her life, who then is raped and commits suicide. Both moments are shown on stage, graphically and at length, in a way that’s both massively disturbing and unearned. I guess the kind of meandering randomness of Barron’s narrative echoes the sense that Jeanine’s out of control of her own life; but at the same time, what’s the point of showing it all if she’s never allowed any introspection, any chance to talk about how she actually feels? 

‘Dirty Crusty’ ends with a sequence that’s so hilarious, so adorable that you almost forget what’s gone before. People doing ballet badly are very cute! The wonky arms, the earnest faces! It’s all expertly, entertainingly choreographed by Darcy Wallace, and it brings the house down. But, much like the real animals brought on to the stage in innumerable serious dramas, it can only put a superficial spray of magic over what’s gone before. Not enough to give all this coherence. And not enough to make it feel like something more than looking back on a heady, weird, bad night out and thinking: What was that about?

Written by
Alice Saville


£17, £15 concs. Runs 1hr 45min (no interval)
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