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Jane Horrocks with her dancers and band in the background | © Johan Persson
Jane Horrocks with her dancers and band in the background | © Johan Persson
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Flashback To The '70s And '80s With 'If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me'

Picture of Francesca Hobson
Updated: 12 January 2017
The unusual and thought-provoking show If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me has exploded onto the Young Vic stage. Described as part-gig, part-dance, the show leaves you feeling rather perplexed by the end of the hour-long production. The punk and rock music ranges from the ’70s through to the early noughties, featuring a wide selection of songs that have been covered, spun around, and twisted up to fit Jane Horrocks’ idea for her production.

Horrocks conceived the show and has focused the music choices on her teenage years growing up in Lancashire in the late 70s and early 80s, with these northern bands influencing her choice in music. Undoubtedly, Horrocks’ voice is captivating; her ability to sing in a quiet, sultry tone and being able to switch suddenly to a screeching high pitched note is impressive. Whilst she has put a contemporary twist to the songs in order to make it more relatable to a younger audience, the show’s songs generally call out to the same generation as Horrocks or older, seeming to leave a gap in connection between the show and the younger viewers.

This gap, however, is not just from the music and the youth’s innocence, but the general aura of the show seems to have left the entire audience feeling perplexed. Horrocks takes pride in the fact that there is no speech throughout the show, only music for the audience to try and draw a connection to. The only words spoken are at the very beginning to introduce the show and at the end to close it. The opening words are spoken from Gang of Four’s Anthrax, recorded in 1979, with Horrocks’ Lancastrian drawl exclaiming that love is a universal thing before breaking out into the song. Horrocks closes the show again with spoken words by Anthrax – pointedly clarified as from the 2005 album recording rather than the 1979 one, signifying the journey Horrocks has come on from her teenage years. The general theme of the production appears to be love; the highs and lows, the passion and the quarrels are all represented through the four dancers that share the stage with Horrocks.

IF YOU KISS ME, KISS ME by Horrocks, , Conceived by Jane Horrocks and Aletta Collins, Director - Aletta Collins, Design - Bunny Christie, The Young Vic, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/
Jane Horrocks singing with her dancers | © Johan Persson

The dancers performances are flawless, interacting with one another in an attempt to draw together each song in lover’s tiffs, erotic dances and tender caresses. One dancer of particular note was Michael Walters, fresh from the acclaimed Juilliard School of Dance in New York; he’s performed across Europe displaying his obvious talent before finally landing gracefully in his pirouette on stage at the Young Vic. Walters was slick, clean and fluid in his movements from the moment he entered the stage, stretching out into elegant leg extensions in perfect poise and bending his limbs into positions you couldn’t even dream of doing. He could switch from an elegant ballerina to hard-core twitching and dancing whilst screaming at the top of his lungs during Nag, Nag, Nag by Cabaret Voltaire – expressing the frustration with a relationship of a nagging partner and the overwhelming anger you can feel.

Walter isn’t alone in his flawless dancing, accompanied by Conor Doyle, Daniel Hay-Gordon and the sole female Lorena Randi; there isn’t a single one of them who isn’t en pointe at the right moment or out of sync with the other. The quartet interact with each other in the choreography, caressing one another in one song, signifying the passion in the relationship to, again, angrily screaming at each other in Nag, Nag, Nag, frustrated with their partner. The dancers seem to be the only connection the audience could relate to as they try to interpret the lyrics into stages of love and lust: acting out sexual positions, angry quarrels and close embraces. But despite the dancers’ interpretations, the lack of speech and the odd choreography leave the audience wondering what it really means, which suggests that perhaps Horrocks shouldn’t be so proud that the show lacks dialogue after all.

The band being present on stage didn’t help the confusion of the audience. They didn’t seem to sing or dance to the music, as Horrocks was the main vocalist. At times, they seemed awkward to be on the stage, walking to spots they had clearly been told to go to at certain parts of songs, only to return to their original space and stand there woodenly. One musician of note would, of course, be the esteemed drummer Rat Scabies from The Damned, seeming a little more relaxed than the others – perhaps down to his vast musical history. Despite their apparent woodenness, they played fantastically, almost sounding as if it was pre-recorded instead of a live act. They performed all of the songs on the set list, from ‘Fiction Romance’ by the Buzzcocks, ‘I Know It’s Over’ by The Smiths and Morrissey’s ‘Life Is A Pigsty’, with amazing precision. With the band members being kept at the very back of the stage, or often off-stage, they weren’t able to interact with the audience and try to make that much needed connection the show required.

IF YOU KISS ME, KISS ME by Horrocks, , Conceived by Jane Horrocks and Aletta Collins, Director - Aletta Collins, Design - Bunny Christie, The Young Vic, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/
Jane Horrocks atop the giant plug with Conor Doyle and Lorena Randi | © Johan Persson

Of course, without the band, the performance couldn’t necessarily be classified as part-gig, but instead as more of an interpretative dance show with a random singer thrown in. But despite its title of a part-gig, part-dance production, is it really that? One would expect hard-core jamming or dancing in the aisles to a gigged show, but the performance remains as just that: a performance. The music suggests grimy floors, spilt beer, floors jumping with the bass of the music and stomping feet, but the Young Vic doesn’t give that. Instead, the audience is seated in the round on upright wooden benches, with clear views and silent spectators. One would expect to be jostled, singing along and vying for the best view of the stage rather than sat still staring at a clinical looking stage.

The pure white, empty stage gives off this clinical appearance, seeming an odd choice for a punk-filled gig, as it has white wooden floorboards for the stage, white walls and a giant white wall socket that covers the back wall. The single enormous plug switched on is never explained, simply used as a giant prop for Horrocks to sit on for The Human League’s ‘Empire State Human’, and once it’s unplugged, she sits upon it and rolls around atop it. The humongous socket could imply the magnitude of love as an emotion and how small we are in the grand scheme of things, or it could simply be for Horrocks to sit on and seem more important than the others on the stage – but who knows?

That’s exactly what the lasting impression is for the show; no connection is made between the performers and the audience as we leave unsure what we’d just paid to see. It’s without a doubt that the vocals, instrumental and dancing techniques were spot on, but they just don’t seem to join up and instead leave you scratching your head as to what happened in the last hour.

‘If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me’ played at The Young Vic from March 10-April 16, 2016.

The Young Vic, 66 The Cut, Waterloo, London, UK, +44 20 7922 2922