Tess Review

Forum Theatre, Malvern – 15th November 2023

Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau


Ockhams Razor company uses circus techniques and (to my eyes) modern dance and acrobatics to tell tales in a unique way, helping promote these skills to a wider audience. They produce their own set elements to interact with, enabling them to produce thrilling results with just a few planks of wood, some fabric and a few scant props. These elements are often assembled in front of our eyes on stage. An impressive array of different surfaces (tables, beds, pulpits) and locations was evoked by these props. Using three planks to represent the journey up hill and down dale on the long journey from (and to) Tess’s home was an absolute masterstroke.

It took me a while to get into the right headspace and rhythm for such a radical show. Once I had gotten into the group’s world and storytelling technique I really enjoyed the show. The first moment that blew me away was Joshua Frazer (as Alec D’Urberville) using the large metal circle (think Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man). He danced with it, around it and spun inside it in a breathtaking display of skill that made the senses whirl. To me it portrayed the rich Lord’s social whirl. Seeing Alec introduce Tess (Lila Naruse) to it was like watching her being drawn into his world, with a natural awkwardness that enhanced the storytelling. The timing when the circle concluded its final spinning and hit the ground was sheer perfection!

There was much humour in the work including the drunken cavorting during the revelry scenes which looked rather painful as there was much chucking each other around. Angel (Nat Whittingham) helping the girls across the “river” was another mirthworthy scene. But the most hilarious moment was the girls trying to catch his attention by gamboling in a flirty way on the back stage “bars”. This was my favourite moment of the entire night – deliciously played for laughs with aplomb.

How the performers managed to spin, fly around and (especially) the backwards walking with the back bent at 90 degrees to the body without injuring themselves I’ll never know. An incredible feat of bodily control.

The original music by composer Holly Khan added to the ambiance and set the scene with the same impact that film scores do. Special mention also to Macadie Amoroso narrating (also as Tess) for her sensitive performance – totally invaluable in a dance piece for those who didn’t know the work.

Tess and Angel’s lovers dance was like watching two birds of paradise performing their courtship dance. It was sensuous and romantic and genuinely intimate. One of the undoubted highlights of the piece.

A tender ending; Lila elegantly entwining herself in the rope whilst the voice-over focused on the astral aspects of the culmination of the story, turned what could have been a downer into an elevating final chapter.

It was obvious from the standing ovation that Ockhams Razor are a big crowd favourite. I can see why. An intriguing performance that wowed the crowd, thrillingly bringing Hardy’s famous novel to the stage through a very unique vocabulary and spectacular stagecraft from all performers. If you have any interest in circus skills, dance or just great storytelling you will undoubtedly love this show.