This week, I was lucky enough to be able to talk to those behind Jazz Hands Productions’ latest piece, Lost Connection. This devised dance production follows the story of a young dancer called Josh, who is forced to shield throughout the pandemic due to a serious underlying health condition. To motivate himself, Josh begins to vlog his attempts to dance during his isolation.
From watching the production team’s wonderfully professional ‘behind the scenes’ videos, it was apparent that this production, which focuses on the problems that the arts world is currently facing, has been forced to adapt through a number of quite different iterations. For a long time, the team intended to produce a piece about Emma Hauck, a German creative from the early 20th century who died institutionalised in a psychiatric hospital and whose letters survive her. I asked producer Ana Pagu how they decided to make the change from this idea to the final version of Lost Connection that premieres this Saturday. She responded, ‘We realised that we would have to film the majority of the piece remotely, which would realistically mean setting it in modern times during lockdown. We then started drawing parallels between the story of Emma Hauck and our own experiences of lockdown. She was similarly locked away from the rest of the world and gradually descended into further madness because of it. In the same way, we updated her letters to her friends and family to become vlogs instead.’
This intensity is reflected in the atmosphere created by the production: the vlog clip that forms the trailer shows Josh, played with relatable and convincing sincerity by Josh Willets, surrounded by his stockpiled loo roll (everyone’s favourite 2020 purchase), genuinely despairing about his lack of progress or motivation in the dim light of his university bedroom. We are reminded that this is a piece created by a generation of student theatre makers who have struggled to create throughout the last year. As Felix Westcott, director and writer, told me, ‘We soon realised … that I alone could not write what is such a universal experience.’ And yet the experience has not been universal – underlying health conditions have separated some, like protagonist Josh, from the rest of society. Pagu reflected this when she summarised, ‘Although the lockdowns obviously affected everyone differently, I think lots of students and artists were in that place at some point in the past year and a half.’
One might say this sounds all too familiar to watch on a Saturday night – but there is a strange catharsis in seeing one’s experiences (though recent) reflected here – especially when channelled into dance. I consider myself lucky to have been able to see a preview of Josh dancing in the part of the piece they were able to film in the Oxford Playhouse – a layer that I expect will add a great deal of depth to the piece which may otherwise prove overly confined. While dance undoubtedly provides a different channel through which to express the emotions and themes of the story, Pagu made clear that it brought a few rehearsal challenges, ‘Performing contemporary dance on grass in the park was definitely tricky, but it worked eventually!’ Indeed, while my dance expertise is minimal, the preview I was given was striking and it was a pleasure to see Josh able to dance on a big stage having seen the clips of him practising in his cramped bedroom. Discussing future productions with Jazz Hands, it was interesting to hear that dance continues to be a theme for this company, as they will be staging a version of Persephone that is also to feature dance at the Playhouse.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to preview the piece as a whole, but if the resilience of the production team and the evocative and sincere clips are anything to go by, this production is one to watch
.Lost Connection is available to buy or rent for two weeks by 7pm tonight, Sunday 27th June. Get your tickets here : https://www.jazzhandsprods.co.uk/tickets