Evening Standard Review Without Trace

Punch and Joy Show

Anne Sacks

Evening Standard, 8 March 2000

a punchy, provocative and frequently overwhelming experience

In the programme to his latest piece, Without Trace, director Mark Murphy notes that he can no longer imagine creating work without many tiers. One can see why. Murphy has expertly devised an original and richly hybrid theatre that layers film, text, movement, and music, erasing the lines between them, and delivering a punchy, provocative and frequently overwhelming experience. Watching a V-Tol show is an event – and increasingly one not to be missed.
The story is about Beth (Christine Devaney), who vanishes without trace, leaving her boyfriend Jim (James Hewison) and best friend Anna (Anne Gilpin) wondering if they really knew her. Beth had already disappeared within the relationship so her physical departure is the next logical step.
The narrative unfolds in many layers – through film, often on several screens, that expresses internal states such as Jim’s devastation; through dialogue spoken by actors as the characters’ disembodied voices or thoughts; through an expressive electronics and percussive score that drives the drama; and through movement that thrusts the dancers’ bodies into close contact with each other, cradling, tugging, supporting or baiting in swift and muscular swings.
The impact is immense. A large screen drops in front of the set. Jim in close-up on the phone, panicked, his image blurring, while on a smaller screen the missing Beth is seen walking through the green Norfolk fens, released. Juxtaposition is everywhere – on film, on stage with dancers, actors and musicians playing live. The flow is seamless and organic, the action immaculately judged and timed.
The filmed sequences redefine theatrical space. Traditionally, sets are metaphors for locations but Murphy’s cameras open up the theatre to take us right into Jim and Beth’s London flat and along the road of Beth’s journey. The journey becomes the metaphor.
The dancers are versatile, as irresistible on film as on stage. Their collaboration is acknowledged by Murphy, who by now is so adept at layering his dance theatre noir that perhaps his characters will in future have more contradictions.