This week I decided to get physical (stop it, we don’t want any Olivia Newton-John here) and head over to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds to check out the latest project from up-and-coming physical theatre company RashDash and writer Alice Birch. Part of WYP’s ‘Furnace’ programme, which promotes opportunities for emerging theatre artists to trial and test out new work, the performance showcased a series of brand new scenes and ideas (ideas that had been brewing for just two short weeks) with the view of them being transformed into a complete show over the coming months.

RashDash was formed in 2008 at the University of Hull by Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen, with an aim to create theatre that concentrated on the now and the themes that matter in today’s society. They blend music, acting, dance and new writing to create noisy, vivid and superbly energetic performances that are both thought-provoking and heart-wrenchingly emotional.

For this latest work, RashDash have been working collaboratively with Birch to create a piece centred around the theme of women in the military. Though this project is still very much in the early stages of the development, and the performance I attended a testing-ground for what will hopefully become a much bigger project, it was an astounding piece of theatre that left me utterly blown away visually and emotionally. The script is already developed to the point of exquisite, with even the odd flash of humour interspersed amongst lines that have the power to cut to the core. The scenes showcased were an even mixture between the more traditional (if that is the right word to use in this case) spoken inter-play between actors, and more surreal physical and dance scenes, all of which were enhanced by a haunting soundscape of military drill samples, dance music and gunfire.

At all times it seemed key for the creators to generate a disconcerting juxtaposition between military and civilian life, achieved most effectively during the scene in which two soldiers completed their drill exercises alongside two women dancing sexily in a parody of military uniform.  As well as this, the piece emphasised our modern-day tendency to be dismissive of the nature of warfare by having the characters relay its horrors in a clinical, removed sort of way (the doctor describing the mutilated corpse of a pregnant female in a calm and deadened tone, the weapons developer casually discussing the advances of her work in germ-warfare over breakfast with her hungover flatmate), emphasising our complete lack of understanding regarding the impacts of military conflict. This multi-layered dimension meant that the result was something both beautiful and harrowing, the level of performance leaving me emotionally drained and utterly stunned.

It is hard to believe that from the quality of RashDash’s performance that the piece had only been in production for two weeks, and in rehearsal for three days; I found myself so drawn in and so captivated that it was easy to forget that this was simply a work in progress. One thing is for certain: if the trail-run is anything to go by, the finished product is going to be nothing short of phenomenal, and I’ll be one of the first in line to see it.

To find out more about RashDash and their other projects, visit their website. You can learn more about the West Yorkshire Playhouse ‘Furnace’ programme and their work with new and exciting theatre artists on their designated Furnace page.

– Georgie