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Civilisation at Cambridge Junction; Review by Angela Singer

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Civilisation is one of the most moving shows I have seen at Cambridge Junction. It is a piece acted and danced about the ordinary things people do to try to keep afloat in the midst of grief. How we tell ourselves we are “alright”.

This internationally acclaimed piece from writer director Jaz Woodcock-Stewart and choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple is a dance show choreographed round a young woman going through the early stages of grief – but it is set to riotous and uplifting music. That’s what makes it both entrancing and heart-breaking. Dancers Stefania Pinato, Emily Thompson-Smith and James Olivo offer an exquisite performance.

The whole of the Junction’s large stage is set as comfortable home for two people. On a cheerful red carpet is a plush double bed piled with cushions. Behind that is a rail of the couple’s clothes. The table has two chairs at it. There is a rather nice standard lamp. But at the back of the stage, a two-tier table is overflowing with vases of flowers.

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The music and dance are uplifting throughout. The show opens to Abba’s Lay All Your Love on me. It’s a tune that makes people want to dance.

At the start we see the young woman, played deeply affectingly by Caroline Moroney, dressing for her partner’s funeral. It’s not an ordinary day but she must do ordinary things. She puts concealer on a spot on her chin, she turns upside-down to dry her long red hair. She puts a black coat over her black dress, steps into black heels and pulls her hair up under a black hat. What’s moving is how Moroney’s character is not showing her grief, she is fighting to hold it back.

When she returns in the evening, and the stage gets darker as the show goes on, the young woman is alone. Through the show we have other top tunes: Patti Smith’s Because the Night Belongs to Lovers and Don’t Leave Me This Way (I can’t survive, I can’t stay alive without you love).

Buy when the doorbell goes it’s only the delivery of yet another bouquet of flowers. She tries to do ordinary things. It’s a struggle to get out of her dress with no one to help with the zip at the back. She perseveres with the Things-that-must-be-done. At a table piled with window envelopes, we see her phone the Inland Revenue to speak about her late lover’s tax.

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We hear: “Press two if the person you are calling about is deceased.” Then later on (having pressed two) “Are you calling about your own tax?” It’s real call to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The system really is that crass. The show has toured Europe and the revenue bureaucracy was universally understood. Apparently, the Germans roared at it.

The young woman tries so hard to just carry on. While the classical dancers interpret her mood or, the world around her with inspired choreography, sometimes sad, at other times joyful and often whimsical, we see her cook some supper. She valiantly starts to arrange the latest bunch of flowers carefully cutting an inch off the bottom of each stem – until suddenly in anguish, she breaks down and tears them to pieces.

Nothing she tries helps. The television programmes are inappropriate. A friend calls (played thoughtfully by Claire Gaydon) and distracts her for a while. Then there is a miscommunication and she sends the friend away in anger. She goes to bed and she smells the person she has lost. She tries to change the covers and gets tangled up in the duvet. She hasn’t done this alone before. She Googles how to do it.

Then we have a revelation. After an evening of hollow despair, the phone rings. It’s a work call. Having put on nearly all her late lover’s clothes, shirt after shirt, jumper on jumper and ending in his big climbing boots and a baseball cap, suddenly something inside her takes over.

Kicking off the boots, shaking off the cap, shedding some of the shirts, we see her assert herself. We hear her rattle off five minutes of rapid and unintelligible commercial patter, arguing authoritatively with the person on the other end. We get individual words every so often to do with finance and markets and projections and we see the competent woman that she was before this terrible calamity befell her. She has reached out to the world again.

This is a bravura, ensemble performance. It calls out to you and drowns your heart.

Civilisation is at Cambridge Junction was on again on Thursday, September 29 at 7.30pm. Sadly, this is the end of a well-received tour.

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