No More Dancing in the Good Room - review

It’s the whole moment the show has been building up to, and the projector isn’t working. If you saw the debut of No More Dancing in the Good Room last year, you’ll recognise how critical this is. Performer Chris Parker takes a breath, comes to the front, and chats to us as the Q technician deals with the problem. Chris is a cool operator, making jokes as he keeps his body centred, ready for the last dance of the night.

The projector finally boots up, and the apple logo appears on the screen. That’s to show it’s not magic, Chris deadpans. I’m not sure that I believe him, because the moment that follows really is magical. It is not a spoiler to say that this sequence contains everything that makes this show a great one: it’s beautiful, tender, superbly choreographed, and a showcase of Chris Parker’s boundless exuberance. It might leave you teary with joy as the lights come up at the end, maybe even a lot.

Let’s cut back to the beginning. Chris is onstage as we enter, wearing a white sheet over his head like a budget Casper the Ghost. He peeks out behind furniture, also covered by white sheets. This is the good room of his childhood home, where the most precious furniture items are kept on show. There’s to be no eating or drinking in here, and Mum would much prefer Chris danced in the kitchen. Chris is a subversive, naughty child, the Billy Elliot of Christchurch suburbia who just wants to dance.

Still wearing the sheet, he tells us: “you can’t see me when I’m here like this”. It gets us in the mood for childhood games and make-believe, but it’s a very resonant line for the adult Chris. He has two stories to tell us. The first is when he broke the prized golden angel over the fireplace, was banished from the good room, and never wanted to dance again. The second is his coming out story. Together, there’s a message of the importance of self-expression and self-visibility, to be true to yourself and what brings you joy. As Chris wrote for Metro, “The show is a provocation to the audience to live their lives more authentically.”

This return season, supported by Silo Theatre, is much the same as its perfectly formed debut last year at the tiny Basement Studio for the International Comedy Festival. This time at Q’s Loft, Chris has the gift of space. The familiar refrain of Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance fades up, and Chris is soon bounding Gazelle-like and long-limbed around the stage, depicting both a bucolic hunter and the soon to be slain deer (it’s meant to be a two-person show, he protests). Parker wouldn’t get past the first round in auditions for the Royal New Zealand ballet, but I love watching him move. He’s feeling it, pure and free.
Parker wouldn’t get past the first round in auditions for the Royal New Zealand ballet, but I love watching him move. He’s feeling it, pure and free.

Parker gives us an insight into his self-destructive and defeatist tendencies through his own self-deconstruction. We see him as child and adult simultaneously. We see his mother and father, reduced to the anxieties that a child can’t help but pick up. His mother is the creator of taboos, what you can and cannot do in the good room. His father, who is not sure about dancing, uses “mate” as an adjective, and “don’t get carried away” is his catch-phrase. But we also get access to them through home video footage. Papa Parker models gawkily for the camera in a navy polo shirt. The voice of Mama Parker sweetly greets Baby Chris with a “good morning”, in a tone of pure love.

The partnership between Chris Parker and director Jo Randerson regularly pushes the inherent sentimentality of the subject matter against wild absurdity. In the programme Parker writes that after he broke the angel (and hid the shards in the fireplace), he “didn’t sleep for the next four days”. Lesser shows might have tried to show us this. Instead, he launches into a full-on Shakespearean tirade in his best RP (A plague! A pox!). The unusual form of the show can take some time to settle with the audience, but once we acclimatise to the quirks, Chris moves us confidently towards that joyous climax.

No More Dancing in the Good Room. Q Loft until 13th Feb. qtheatre.co.nz.

Read more: Why I wrote No More Dancing in the Good Room.

Main photo: Michael McCabe.