A definition: Apache Dance.
An apache dance is a violent dance for 2 people originated by Parisian apaches. Parisian apaches are gangsters or ruffians.
This is an apt description of Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, a play by John Patrick Shanley now revived, in a new production, by Courtney Larkin. Having been performed recently at the Southwark Playhouse, it is currently playing at Theatre N16 in Balham. There is even a nod to the dance as Danny, played by Gareth O’Connor, is coerced back to Roberta’s apartment after a volley of one-liners between them.
Megan Lloyd-Jones opens the show as the troubled Roberta. Shame in her past has prevented her from living a happy and fulfilled life. At the age of thirty Roberta is still living with her parents along with her thirteen year old son from a defunct early marriage. Roberta sits in a bar aimlessly throwing pretzels into a cup with remarkably good aim. Lloyd-James emanates despair even before she opens her mouth and there are many moments of emotional truth in her performance.
From the moment that O’Connor enters the playing space in his blood stained clothes it’s clear that baby-faced good looks are fronting a man driven by his demons into a life of meaningless violent acts. His Danny is a convincing menace, yet he is also very believable in the scenes in which his fences are lowered to allow positive feelings to overcome his normal angst.
The upstairs room of the Bedford Hotel, now the home of Theatre N16, is well suited to this production. Larkin uses a bar usually hidden from sight for the opening scene and the non-speaking role of the barman discreetly doubles as the lights and sound operator. The only other scene is Roberta’s bedroom and that space is denoted with a change of lighting state on to the mattress on the floor. With the bedding in view from the beginning of the play, there is no doubt where all the talk is leading.
Movement by Kate Lines and fight direction by Nicholas Koy Santillo ensure that the violence of the coupling and the dance is well managed and reinforces the characters.
If there is one criticism of this production, it is that in a script where nothing more happens than that two people meet and end up spending a night together, there’s a barrage of words appearing to play in a loop. It is also questionable that one encounter has the capacity to resolve a lifetime of serious issues such as those told of here.
Having said this some other audiences reported leaving the theatre with ‘a jolt of the heart and a sense of hope’ – as ever response to theatre are in the eye of the beholder.
This is a play you should see to make up your own mind.