22 May 2024

Compagnie Maguy Marin, May B

Compagnie Maguy Marin’s May B takes encouraging inspiration from Samuel Beckett’s work but feels well too slow in unveiling its bleakly comic world…

Compagnie Maguy Marin in “May B”. © Hervé DerooCompagnie Maguy Marin in “May B”. © Hervé Deroo

Compagnie Maguy Marin
May B
★★✰✰✰ London, Sadler’s Wells
21 May 2024

Compagnie Maguy Marin’s May B is a marmite piece of dance theatre. For me, there were moments of levity and dark, intriguing action, and at other times (read many times) it felt like watching paint dry. I’m thinking about a full-on trade gloss with 16 hours between coats.

While new to me, May B is a famous and generally much revered 40-year-old work that takes its inspiration from Samuel Beckett, if not based on any one specific work of his. David Mead recently talked to Maguy Marin about it and helpfully covers some of the background to what goes on over its 90 unbroken minutes.

Marin’s ten dancers are a weirdly lovable, if oddball, slice of humanity, clothed brilliantly by Louise Marin. At first, we see them in grubby nightshirts/Long Johns as some ghostly group of misfits, forever lost and shuffling around if occasionally preoccupied with bodily functions and sex. In silence, this madcap world is dominated by the sound of their shuffling, and it’s mesmerising for a few minutes. While the movement slowly morphs (a Max Wall walk!), the emphasis is on slow development - too slow.

In no particular order, they go on to couple up, roll on the floor, dress, fight ineffectually as two groups of five, have a rather inhibited birthday party, and set off with suitcases to a promised land you know they will never reach. Music-wise, we have some Schubert leider, but the programme factsheet is coy about which ones or what the words are about. And I wonder how many in the audience know their leider well enough to see the intended coupling of theatre and music? At best, a few, I fancy. More promisingly, Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” also features - sung by an unknown homeless man; it fits the characters well and is a high point.

After about 40 minutes, I started to look at my watch and wonder if it was still raining outside. To make things worse, there are several false endings in May B, not compensated for by the odd titter or occasional neatly diverting piece of theatre. At 45 minutes long, it would be a fine piece, but at 90 minutes it takes the goodwill some of its ideas undoubtedly generate and squanders it in silences, dull repetition and ultimately dull movement. And come the end, it was still raining outside, if many in the audience remained happily clapping inside. So, not my night.