Pop Music review – life throws shapes on the dancefloor

Cast, Doncaster
Anna Jordan tunes into intertwined lives and captures the oblivion and camaraderie of the dancefloor in her new drama

It’s no spoiler to reveal that Pop Music ends with Come on Eileen. How could a show about a thousand nights on the dancefloor do otherwise? The final song is as inevitable as the guests at a wedding reception getting on their feet to the rousing chords of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody, and as the unmarried women showing their ringless fingers at the first sound of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies. It’s just what happens.

There’s another way the Dexys Midnight Runners hit is a perfect match for Anna Jordan’s two-hander. With its lines about Johnny Ray moving hearts in mono, Come on Eileen is a song about pop music as much as it is about romance. Elsewhere on the Too-Rye-Ay album, Kevin Rowland writes songs about writing songs (witness Let’s Make This Precious), about capturing the perfect musical moment, about, as he sang, “trying to get the feeling that I had in 1972”.

Similarly, Jordan’s play – ostensibly a romp through three decades of floor-fillers as two former school adversaries catch up on their years apart – is a contemplation of the place pop music has in our lives. Does it offer inspiration or fill a void? Does it give us the aspirational values of the Spice Girls or the hedonistic vacancy of some club anthem? Does it encapsulate those formative turning points or simply offer an escape route? Could it be all of the above?

With her high-density rhymes in James Grieve’s taut production for Paines Plough and Birmingham Rep, Jordan goes a long way to capturing the oblivion and the ecstasy, the lust and the camaraderie of the dancefloor. As she takes us from boy bands to girl power, Britpop to acid house, the mood of the music reflects the changing circumstances of her thirtysomething dancers.

Ranging from the sour to the carefree, Katherine Kotz and Vedi Roy understand the pull between being one of the crowd and feeling as though they’re special. Mass-market entertainment soundtracks what they thought were unique lives. For all their individuality, there’s not a dance routine they don’t know. Funny and true, this is a crowd-pleasing play with troubling depths.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Raves, robots and writhing bodies: how electronic music rewired the world
It started with white-coated boffins; now its figureheads wear masks and play Vegas. A new exhibition tells the story of electronic dance music, from old synths to a statue of Brian Eno

Alexis Petridis

15, Apr, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
How we made Sister Sledge’s We Are Family
‘The boss of our label had paper dolls made of us. We were like … nah’

Interviews by Alexis Petridis

12, Apr, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Was John Travolta a waacker? The martial arts disco dance craze that gripped the world
Born in the gay clubs of LA, waacking was popularised by the TV show Soul Train and picked up by John Travolta and Donna Summer. Now it’s an LGBTQ+ hit across Asia

Emma Russell

13, Jul, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
Pop, Prince and Black Panthers: the glorious life of Chaka Khan
The self-described ‘alpha chick’ has weathered addiction, dodgy managers and the death of Prince to remain as funky as ever. She describes how she went from gun-toting activist to teetotal vegan

Alexis Petridis

15, Feb, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Ibibio Sound Machine: Doko Mien review – borderless groove polymaths
Combining disco and new wave with Ghanaian highlife and Nigerian folk, ISM’s hybrid sound is best when casual and classy

Rachel Aroesti

22, Mar, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
Special Interest: Endure review – jackhammer beats and punk catharsis
The New Orleans band provide a release from tough times with a hardcore album inflected by funk, glam rock and disco

Emma Garland

04, Nov, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
SG Lewis: Times review – soaring, subtle disco for kitchen dancefloors
Given the British producer’s skill for emotionally attuned nightclub elation, his debut shouldn’t suffer from the shutdown of its natural habitat

Alexis Petridis

18, Feb, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Ian Schrager: how we made Studio 54
‘We wanted a mix of rich, poor, gay, straight, old and young … somebody topless could dance with a woman in ballgown and tiara’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

16, Jan, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
How we made: Car Wash by Rose Royce
‘This will never be a hit, we told each other – we are literally singing about a car wash!’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

12, Jul, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
'Frankly, it's ridiculous!' Fleabag super-producer Francesca Moody
She unleashed Phoebe Waller-Bridge on the Edinburgh fringe. The former actor with the Midas touch tells us her recipe for a hit show

Kate Wyver

10, Jul, 2019 @5:00 AM