SMITH dancetheatre’s Agnes and Walter: A Little Love Story engages the audience in the enduring loving relationship between Agnes and Walter, in which their fantasies and imagination are used to escape the mundane realities of everyday life and to heal some of the tensions that inevitably occur in any relationship. The production is inspired by James Thurber’s 1939 story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and combines a variety of performance styles including dance, theatre and mime which are supported by a soundtrack of pre-recorded popular songs, cinematic scores and live vocal performances from singer Margret Pikes.
Perhaps what was most striking about this piece was artistic director Neil Paris’ decision to have Agnes and Walter danced by two couples, one young and one old. It was beautiful to see that the older couple were just as much in love as they had been in their youth. Watching the older couple dance across the stage was particularly refreshing and it was almost surprising to see that the older Walter, superbly played by Robbie Beecham, was just as energetic as the younger one.
Throughout the piece, there were some truly heart-warming moments, the most memorable being when the older couple exchanged and opened two sets of presents. The first was the opening of the unwanted present followed by the all too familiar forced but disappointed smile. The second opening revealed memoirs of the couple’s youth, a set of bunny ears and some orange gloves, the excitement of which prompted breathlessness from an elderly Agnes (Elizabeth Taylor) who then had to be quickly calmed down by Walter.
The diversity of music choices throughout helped to keep the audience engaged, with Springsteen’s Born to Run providing the soundtrack to one of the most exhilarating scenes of the production. All five performers were present on stage, the older couple dancing together in the middle, the singer at the side, whilst the younger couple (Sarah Lewis and Dan Canham) chased each other round the stage, leaping, twirling and playing games with each other, reliving the happier parts of their relationship. The singer’s performances of love songs, some in French, were interspersed throughout the piece and whilst it seemed that they were intended to portray the emotions of love through another medium, I couldn’t help but feel that it disrupted the flow of the performance.
Certain parts of the performance did draw laughter from the audience; however these moments were few and far between and almost non-existent by the end of the production. This was a shame as the comedy added pace to the piece, making it feel lighter and more engaging. By the end, it all felt a bit lacklustre with the five performers repeating a very basic step for a lengthy period of time.
Although the set was very simple, consisting of a garden shed, a table and a window suspended from the ceiling, it was used creatively and effectively throughout the performance with the shed being a centre piece for much of the action. A rather charming use of the shed included young Agnes sticking her head through the window in a series of different guises, even adopting the role of a Hollywood movie star whilst Walter held a fan underneath her; the obvious joy that this created for the characters mirrored by the audience. The simplest use of the imagination and spontaneity really can keep relationships alive.
Overall, a few sections of the production seemed obscure and disjointed and it was difficult to fully understand the significance of what was happening on stage. Despite this, there were also some beautiful and poignant moments that were both heart-warming and fascinating to watch.