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Review: an accident/a life ****

Anna Burnside reviews 'a brilliantly moving and illuminating piece of storytelling'.

A figure lies limp on the stage, illuminated by the headlights of a car. He’s wearing a beanie so it’s hard to see if he’s a man or a crash test dummy.

In fact, it’s Australian dancer/performer Marc Brew, and an accident/a life is the story of a terrible road accident in South Africa in 1997. A drunk driver ploughed into the car where Brew and three friends were on their way to a bushwalk. He was the only one who survived.

Brew was 20 and thought that, as a dancer used to recovering from injuries, he would be fine. One of the many stabbing moments in the show is when he recalls this optimism. Despite being so broken that he was flown back to Australia strapped into an air stretcher perched across three economy class plane seats, he was going to walk again.

The crash left Brew tetraplegic, paralysed from the chest down. It’s a lot to witness in an 80-minute performance, never mind live through. 

Working with Belgian dancer and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Brew has shaped a mass of memories and stories into a brilliantly moving and illuminating piece of storytelling.

As well as movement, Brew tells chunks of the story in his own voice, edited down from hours of recorded conversations with Cherkaoui. There are queasy moments with filmed close ups pulsating on huge onstage screens. 

It’s brilliantly paced, with humour, tenderness and some terrible singing along to Tom Petty to cut through the sadness. Some of this comes from Brew’s astonishing physicality - when he finally makes it home to Australia, he somehow gets upside down. 

The most powerful emotional messages of the show are told through the means of brightly coloured magnetic letters. Brew used something similar in hospital before he could speak. It’s such a clever way of articulating the hugeness of what happened to him without bludgeoning the audience over the head.

One of the loveliest scenes is when, in the absence of nurses, his mother steps in to give her adult son his first post-accident shower. It’s such a small, human moment, beautifully realised with music and billowing dry ice.

Twenty-six years of distance have given Brew the perspective to turn this unthinkably awful experience into a wonderful and optimistic piece of art. It’s about the accident, but the takeaway is definitely about the life.

an accident/a life performed at the Tramway. It will continue an international tour later this year.

Photo by Susan Hay

Tags: dance theatre

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