The Traverse Dance Festival, now in its fourth year, opened gently on Tuesday night with SMITH dance theatre’s touching interpretation of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
In James Thurber’s now-classic book, Walter is an ineffectual day-dreamer who, in reality, is under his wife’s thumb, but in his rich fantasy life may be anything from a brave pilot to ruthless murderer. In ‘Agnes and Walter: A Little Love Story’, artistic director Neil Paris has chosen to focus on the relationship between Walter and his wife.
He depicts with humorous clarity the acts of tolerance, support, sharing and compromise required of any long-term commitment, while speculating about the ebb and flow of isolation and togetherness present in all human connections, which never quite cancel each other out.
As the audience filed in, Walter was standing at a plain, wooden table unravelling fairy lights and gazing dreamily into space. Agnes was, somewhat despondently, sweeping up dust outside a small wooden shed.
An old-fashioned instrumental medley that included ‘Que Sera Sera’ and ‘Strangers in the Night’ was playing in the background. As the house-lights dimmed, Walter rushed in and out of the shed, unwittingly scattering piles of fresh dust on Agnes’s just-cleaned floor and, on seeing her look of dismay, the fantasies begin. Agnes mimes stabbing herself in the belly – perhaps she is physically demonstrating the pain Walt has caused her, or perhaps Walt is fantasising this so that he can become the life-saving, emergency-room surgeon.
Space is deliberately left to allow for individual interpretation. When Walt climbs onto the roof of the shed, practising show-off flying poses, Agnes – with great effort – pushes the shed around to Tammy Wynette’s ‘Stand By Your Man’, providing the first of many genuinely laugh-out-loud moments.
Walt also supports some of Agnes’s fantasies: holding up an electric fan so that her hair billows out in the breeze as she strikes her own poses while hanging out of the shed window.
We also, significantly, witness the fantasy life they don’t share with each other. An elderly Walt and Agnes, played by two performers in their late sixties, offered the poignant dimension of the passing of time to be reflected upon; while female vocalist Margaret Pikes, also in her sixties, acted as a bridge between the gap of ages and as guardian angel, invisibly enabling positive communication.
This piece was performed with a comic sincerity that was quietly very moving and happily ambiguous.
The Traverse Dance Festival is a six-day festival running Tuesday 20 – Saturday 24 November (times vary)
£15.50 (£11.50 & £6 concessions)
(Sonata For a Man and a Boy £10 / family tickets £7 each)