Reviews, awards and responses
Reviews - International touring 2006
Los Angeles Times - 'resolutely intimate and unassuming... moving performance art'
New York Times - 'astonishing, almost unbearably moving'
Ghunka.com - ' spectacular in the best theatrical sense... sublime contemplation'
Adelaide Advertiser - 'pure art'
The Australian - 'unexpectedly tender'
Reviews - Edinburgh 2005:
The Telegraph - 'simply outstanding'
Metro - 'utterly compelling... quite brilliant'
The Scotsman - ***** - 'an exercise in
The Stage - 'heart-wrenchingly beautiful etude
on parental love and loss'
The Herald - ***** - 'one of the most life-affirming, emotionally
honest pieces you'll see this Fringe'
Three Weeks - 'a moving
contemplation, reassuringly simple'
The Guardian - 'seamless movement'
britishtheatreguide.info - 'eloquent and moving'
Reviews - Previous runs
Absence and Presence has won the following awards:
Carol Tambour Award 'Edinburgh to New York' 2005
Total Theatre Award 2005
Herald Angel Award 2005
Andrew with Carol Tambour at the presentation of the 2005 award.
Herald Angel Award Presentation
Lewis Segal - Los Angeles Times - 13th October 2006
"Absence and Presence" is a ghost play like no other, a multidisciplinary solo showpiece that lightly invokes the most primal human feelings.
Through 60 minutes of speech, mime, dance, music and video imagery on the nearly bare stage of the Macgowan Little Theater at UCLA, Andrew Dawson conjures up the spirit and style of his late father.
Dad speaks to him from a TV set, dryly criticizing his own funeral. A life-size wire sculpture evokes his physicality. His pipe and glasses inspire identity transference — when Dawson uses them, he becomes his father. And as we learn of the gulf that existed between them, we see how memories of missed connections can leave people torn up, guilty, incomplete.
Like every son, Dawson wanted his father's approval, and it still hurts that the man saw him once in a mime performance and left early because he didn't understand it. As Dawson pores over old letters, the quiet desperation he finds in them and in the TV chat — "I seem to live in the past," "The days are all the same," "I go on from day to day" — mirrors his own frustration at not being able to come to terms with his father once and for all.
Every proof that the man lived a shallow existence with nothing much to say for himself is countered by remembrances of him walking with his boy, hand in hand, and other images of surpassing tenderness. So, near the end, Dawson dances a sweet father-and-son duet with that wire effigy, doing now what never happened back then.
Is it too late? Can reliving a man's life and reenacting his death take the place of all those unspoken conversations and lost opportunities? Maybe they can — maybe it's the only way to reconcile the living and the dead.
Created in collaboration with Jos Houben, Graham Johnston and Fabrik Potsdam, "Absence and Presence" stayed resolutely intimate and unassuming at its first UCLA Live performance on Wednesday, enlisting the music of Joby Talbot to express the powerful emotional undercurrents of the piece and leaving Dawson's performance remarkably restrained and thoughtful.
His hands fluttering around a naked light bulb and then falling away summed up his sense of his father's life — and maybe his own. But we were never told everything we wanted to know — life isn't like that. Dawson isn't experimental choreographer Bill T. Jones, who once used the video image of his late partner, Arnie Zane, in a dance duet that virtually resurrected Zane and their love at full intensity.
No, Dawson respected his father's reticence and refused to paint his portrait in primary colors. The only moment of high drama involved sudden, overwhelming physical pain, paralysis, collapse — the body unexpectedly negating everything in our sense of ourselves.
But "Absence and Presence" suggested that death isn't the end of anyone's story, that Dawson began truly knowing and loving his father only after the man was gone. That a relationship previously taken for granted can transform a life retroactively — and inspire moving performance art as well.
Anita Gates - New York Times - 3rd May 2006
Andrew Dawson's astonishing, almost unbearably moving "Absence & Presence" begins with a telephone ringing (that old-fashioned jangly ring) and a television screen showing a human hand. A man's voice announces that he died in 1985 and that his body lay undiscovered for 10 days.
When the lights come up, Mr. Dawson is standing, making flickering, birdlike gestures with his right hand, sometimes striking one of the bare light bulbs that hang from the ceiling. He then proceeds to present a roughly hourlong study of grief over his father's death that is so powerful that anyone who has recently lost someone close may, unless itching for catharsis, want to stay away. The show was an award winner at last year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
The elder Mr. Dawson, a postal carrier in Sussex, England, lived alone and sent his son mundane letters about bad roads, rising postage rates, local soccer games and the difficulty of just getting through the days: "If I could cook a nice hot meal I would have more energy. I do my best to get to work but seem to go so slow."
The son uses his father's eyeglasses and pipe in an attempt to evoke him and tries to imitate his shuffling yet somehow happy-go-lucky walk. He recreates a night when the father came to see his son in the theater in what must have looked like childish melodrama, and a ridiculous way to make a living, to such a sensible adult.
Toward the end the abstract becomes more specific when Mr. Dawson sets a human-shaped wire-mesh figure on his shoulders like a small child watching a parade or just thrilled to be traveling so high with daddy's help.
Earlier the mesh figure represented the father's dead body: no longer the beloved man, but only, as people so often say, an empty shell. Mr. Dawson drives that cruel absence home with the appearance on screen of the man's mouth. We wait for him to speak, and wait and wait. And the telephone goes on ringing, never answered.
Joby Talbot's original, emotionally wide-ranging music adds significant depth to Mr. Dawson's performance. The most piercing moment comes near the end when it becomes clear what those flickering, birdlike gestures really were.
'Superfluities' Website (ghunka.com) - 29th April 2006
Andrew Dawson's Absence and Presence at PS122, is an elegant and moving attempt by the performer to recreate in his own movement and space the presence of his late father, who died in 1985 and lay undiscovered for ten days. Dawson's production comes to PS122 fresh from the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe festival, where it won several awards; its New York visit is coproduced by the Carol Tambor Theatrical Foundation. It is a tender memory chamber play, spectacular in the best theatrical sense in that its visual ambition reaches for a sublime contemplation.
In his attempt to recraft his father in his work, Dawson, a former student of Merce Cunningham and Jacques Lecoq, relies on the grace of mime to gather a series of images and imitations approaching the ideas of death and memory. Dawson dons the personal effects left by his father–a pair of eyeglasses and a pipe–as he recreates conversations and his father's own gestures, and we watch him refine and shape his body to match his father's gait and movements; interspersed are Dawson's more abstract demonstrations of the more ephemeral elements of the organic world, air and water. Dawson's hand becomes a moth skittering against a bare lightbulb, his fingernails clicking against the glass before the moth enters its death throes; when his widowed father somehow loses his wedding band, he and his father become lost in a deep ocean of memory.
This is a spare show, more in the nature of an installation to be investigated (and the audience is welcome to so investigate the set before and after the show); its main elements in the PS122 staging are a vast white cyclorama, a small sculpture, a television set (the video component, which in one unique moment allows Dawson to stretch a nude body bathed in blue light across the length of the stage, is by Dawson and Graham Johnston), a few chairs, and a chicken-wire sculpture of a human form that Dawson contemplates and manipulates through the piece. It can't be said that Dawson ever really dances with the form, the movements are never quite so self-conscious as that, but by the end of the hour Dawson's manipulations have validated it as a delicate representation of his father, of the corporeal human form generally, all its own, though as ephemeral as those organic elements of air and water that he'd demonstrated earlier.
The Adelaide Advertiser - March 2006
A Theatre work, which flows softly into pure art. Andrew Dawson is mime dancer, sculptor and lighting man, here paying melancholy tribute to the prosaicism of another generation and another life style represented by his late father. Love and difference - the life of one imbued in another. It is a slow measured work and extraordinarily touching. Soundscape of many musics, video, exquisite lighting, a spacious set with dance floor and a sweetly ghostly hollow man, the presence of the absent. Dawson places the frame on his shoulders and it becomes the light burden of memory. Reflections on the solitude of loss are potent. Everything about Dawson’s show is unusual.
The Australian - March 2006
Dawson explores the distance in the relationship as his work as a performer takes him far from the pipe and slippers life of his widower parent. But re reading old, unexpectedly tender and dryly ironic letters brings new perspectives. There are echoes of Phillip Larkin in the lyric ordinariness of the father, and with haunting music score, elegant lighting and astute use of video Dawson thriftily and touchingly shows how much our fathers become us.
Ismene Brown – The
Telegraph – 15th August 2005
In 24 hours, I saw eight shows, of which six were worth
seeing, and one simply outstanding. The stand-out is Andrew Dawson's
masterly monologue-installation Absence and Presence at Aurora Nova.
Dawson's father lay dead for 10 days before he was found. With just a
TV, a wire figure of his father, some letters, his father's specs and
pipe, and astonishing lighting and aural atmosphere, Dawson builds a
deeply moving picture of his dad that is an inquiry and yet a monument
to uncomprehending love. Here is a timid, unimaginative postman,
valuing steadiness above all, left by his wife (understandably), whose
letters show little desire to understand his theatrical, adventurous
son. Pity, terror, the tragic emotions crowd in as Dawson offers no
verdict in this haunting, loving evocation, which his father, you feel,
would certainly not have understood.
Andrew Richardson - Metro - 19th August
How would you feel if someone close to you died and the
undiscovered for ten days? In his new show, Absence And Presence,
internationally acclaimed mime artist Andrew Dawson considers this in
relation to his own father's sudden death some 20 years ago.
Dawson opens up personal wounds and bares his soul in such an intimate
and unaffected way it becomes utterly compelling. Looking back at their
relationship, he reads excerpts from his father's sardonic letters and
uses video interludes with a talking head (Dawson as his father)
to fill in the gaps.
But the real beauty of this show comes from the way Dawson inhabits the
stage with his own physical presence, mime and sculpture. His movements
have fluidity and grace and there is such a beautiful simplicity in all
the language, the rhythm and the pace of the scenes, the stage seems
his most natural environment.
Contrasting mundane details with a dramatic score, in which composer
Joby Talbot echoes the style of contemporary classical maestro Phillip
Glass, Dawson conveys emotions that resonate universally. If you see
only one thing in Aurora Nova, make sure it's this one. It really is
Mansfield - The Scotsman - 18th August 2005
In 1985, Andrew Dawson's father died, and his body lay undiscovered
for ten days. Dawson was in New York at the time, building a career in
the theatre. Now he explores that experience using dance, mime and
sections from the letters his father wrote to him.
Implicit in the show is the gulf between the worlds of father and
son: one young, fit, beginning his career, the other retired, battling
depression and loneliness, aware of his failing health. News passes
between them in airmail letters, but, like the phone which rings
unanswered, they simply fail to connect.
The show is an episodic account of their relationship, told with
plenty of time and space around it. Dawson is at times the father, at
times the son, at times acting out stories within the main story;
memories and metaphors. He tries his father's pipe and glasses, wears
his shape like a costume, walks his walk, but it seems only to
underline the distance between them.
Absence and Presence is a delicate little show, an exercise in
simplicity. Dawson has little to help him but a television monitor, a
wire sculpture of a seated man and some thoughtful lighting. The
sculpture is a powerful prop, present yet insubstantial, and Joby
Talbot's musical score is strong - occasionally too strong for this
quiet piece of theatre.
Dawson senior emerges from the shadows, a quietly meticulous man who
worked as a postman and played chess. And, by being brave enough to be
specific, Dawson speaks to every child encouraged by their parents to
fly the nest, and yet haunted by a lingering sense of guilt at having
done so. The great strength of the piece is that it takes us into this
complex emotional territory so effortlessly.
Duska Radosavljevic - The Stage - Friday
12 August 2005
If you are after quality rather than pzazz then this
imaginative yet mature, accomplished, understated, heartfelt and
entertaining piece of visual theatre has got to be at the top of your
list. 21 years after co-founding the Mime Theatre Project, Andrew
Dawson is coming of age in a number of ways, though not all of them a
reason for celebration. This is also the 20th anniversary of his
father’s death and he decides to confront his demons, including the
fact that his father’s body lay undiscovered for ten days.
In a rather sparse and slow exposition, Dawson reads us extracts from
personal letters while also introducing a range of non-verbal
narratives concerning a moth, a wire man on a chair and samples of
video footage of an old man’s belongings. Grief carries its own laws
and this documentary display will be forgiven the moment Dawson embarks
on telling us his story the way he knows best - in mime and movement,
shining a light on his sorrow, embodying an elderly postman as he
dances to the radio, fishing for poignant metaphors, playing with
shadows on the wall, and weaving it all together into a
heart-wrenchingly beautiful etude on parental love and loss.
Mary Brennan - The Herald - 13th August
***** - WINNER OF 2005 HERALD ANGEL AWARD
Absence and Presence, Andrew Dawson's deeply affecting
solo about the death of his father and the far-reaching aftermath of
grief, takes what might seem fairly unexceptional material - the
reading of old letters, re-enacting of bitter-sweet memories - and
distils an almost unbearably moving account of loss that rings so true,
there's no point in fighting back the tears. They'll keep welling up as
dawson, with a minimum of props - some video, three chairs, a piece of
sculpture - revisits the father-son relationship from both
perspectives, paying a quietly tender tribute to a father who died, in
1985, with no-one near. Dawson's own absence at the time still haunts
him, but this piece is never histrionic, self-indulgent or mawkish.
Instead, Dawson uses a lovingly light touch in his evocative
choreography and mime, his dashes of sly humour, his journey through
guilt and regret, make this one of the most life-affirming, emotionally
honest pieces you'll see this Fringe.
Eilidh MacAskill - Three Weeks - 9th
In amongst all the hugger-mugger and flim-flammery of the
fringe, it is wonderful to see a piece of theatre brave enough to take
it's time and rely on the basics. Based on his personal father-son
relationship, Andrew Dawson's beautiful elegy is not so much a piece
about his dead dad, as a dialogue with the many menories of when he was
very much alive. As easily as memories can conjure up a person or time,
by practicing his father's walk, reading from his letters, miming
holding his hand as a young boy, Dawson carefully and cleverly shows us
their world. This gentle meditation eases through from image to image -
a moving contemplation, reassuringly simple.
Lyn Gardner - The Guardian - 10th
In 1985 Andrew Dawson's father died. While he was busy
forging his career, his father's body lay undiscovered for 10 days.
With Absence and Presence you get the feeling that Dawson is trying to
make peace with the dead. It feels guilty.
There are some good things here, particularly in the tenderness with
which Dawson recreates his father's lonely life and the moth-like
delicacy of the movement. It is effective, too, in the way that it
plots the distance - physical and emotional - between father and son
with just a carefully placed chair. A ghostly, gossamer figure haunts
the stage and at the end when the figure is lifted onto Dawson's
shoulders it is as if you are watching generations of sons being
hoisted onto their fathers' shoulders and fathers onto their sons in
one single, seamless movement.
www.britishtheatreguide.info - Aug 2005
Andrew Dawson was working in
theatre in New York when his father's body was discovered ten days
after his death. Absence and Presence is an eloquent and moving
reflection on the life and death of a man who lived an average life
with modest desires and a gentle disposition. Dawson is at his best
when transforming himself into the father figure. This is a tender and
sometimes humorous portrayal as well as a belated exploration of a
relationship between father and son. The movement is superbly
understated and a language more eloquent than words to describe love,
loss and grief. Dawson's other strengths lie in the visual components
and the integration of music to enhance those emotions men all too
often fear to express.
The stage is simple,
pleasingly bare except for a television monitor, three folding chairs
on one of which is seated a slumped figure constructed entirely of
chicken wire. From the ceiling naked light bulbs dangle. Dawson uses
these visuals, along with the music, to pace the show. At moments there
is room for quiet pondering, at others scope for laughter and there is
an elegiac quality that is deeply touching. A recurrent metaphor for
the transient nature of human existence lies in the image of a moth
drawn buzzing to the naked light only to perish before its time. Dawson
creates suchlike metaphors without any pretension. Towards the end a
hand-held light projects the mesh figure in larger than life
proportions on the back screen, seeking out every nook and cranny,
bringing it to life, rendering it an endearing and wonderous human
presence. This is an image of long-lasting impact, and as with the
death of all those close to us we are touched with the recognition of
our own frailty. Dawson has given us a show of such sweet simplicity
and such complex emotional pith that I was surprised to find tears in
Philip Beaven - Total Theatre - Jan
Everything that I say is only a fragment of
something that spoke as a whole: It was eloquent, it was lyrical, it
was quiet, a story, an intimate account of one man and his relationship
to his father. (A father who had died and lain undiscovered in his
house for 10 days.) Yet his father was there too, physically absent -
invisibly present. A few chairs, a television set and a sculpture of a
life-size sitting man made out of chicken wire, such unpretentious and
banal objects. The multi-layered storytelling of mime, movement, dance,
puppetry, video (on TV monitor) and recorded text created a story
mosaic that grew throughout the show. But at the centre was Andrew
Dawson's consummate creative presence and physical craft, he moves with
such a lightness, modesty and unpretentiousness. In my memory, it is as
though he danced with his father for an hour, transforming him in the
process to a weightless child as he carried the wire-frame sculpture on
his shoulders. I suspect that this was one of those performances that
if it didn't work for you it would have been boring and quickly
forgotten. For me, like his previous work 'Quatre Mains', it made a
deep, unforgettable impression and will inspire me in my own work.
Potsdamer Neuste Nachrichten 7th October 2002
Memories of a father.
One hand slightly open. But we can't reach into this hand. Its presence
is virtual, in our thoughts. 'Absence and Presence' is the name Andrew
Dawson gives to his play, and makes no secret of its autobiographical
background. "My father died in 1985 and was discovered 10 days after
his death. What happened to him and me during that time? He writes in
The images circululating in the mind of the reminiscing son are shown
to us on the monitor. There's the hand, a living room lamp, part of a
face, the fathers handwriting in a letter. Below 3 light bulbs swinging
from the ceiling are 3 wooden garden chairs not far from the TV table.
On one of them is transparent wire filigree figure it all forms part of
Andrew Dawson's 'memory-room' the past needs time. Only the hand - now
that of the very present Dawson - moving as a leitmotiv throughout the
piece - flaps like a bird trying to capture the intangible, The
Music from Piano + Violin underline the melancholic dream-dance quality
of this 'monologue' as Dawson also names this piece. The monologue
mainly from the father. As the son dances his airmail letter around the
room, a voice tells of the loneliness in the empty house. The son's
world is alien, far away. "I hear you travel a lot", writes the father.
Once he even sees his son in the theatre but doesn't understand it. The
great distance between them finally permits only a formal communication
'`the son should take care of his health and always eat well.' As the
50-year-old radio appears on the screen, playing an old hit tune, the
son tries to change roles. In a spot light the puts on the dead man's
glasses, puts his pipe in his mouth, and after a few unco-ordinated
movements manages a little dance.
But this closeness soon becomes cold, replaces by a still picture:
Shoes, trousers, tie, and a bed -The lifless effects the father left
behind all appear on the screen. Lost to flickering and hissing. The
objects no longer shed light, no longer create that closeness.
Finally, Dawson turns to the wire-doll, no longer a body, but a symbol
of fleeting memory. The dancer lets this delicate figure perform a few
somersaults, carries it piggyback and it becomes an image of his own
childhood. Then the puppet is sat back on a chair. Dawson crouches down
beside it and the pushes gently, it moves as if it were inhaling for a
few moments a picture of tender futility.
The virtual journey to the father ends in a short mime. The lecoq
student Dawson undresses, cleans his teeth and stretches out 'in bed'
on a chair. On the monitor we see a new picture in stark contrast to
objects shown until now - luxuriant, green bushes, symbol of a natural
birth and death.
Is that consolation for the intangible and missed farewell?
Markische Allgemeine Berlin 10th October 2002
The Tenderness of depression.
Sometimes it takes a while for feelings to find
form. Andrew Dawson's father died in 1985, a lonely depressive widower.
For ten days he lay at home before his body was found. His son has
created a 70-minute play about this time. The British actor explores
the conflict with the inner world of his helpless father and shows his
own reactions, guilt, and pain at this turning point of his life.
We are in a neutral space, half lit. 3 chairs, a dim bulb, a monitor.
Way back and barely perceptible stands a puppet, life sized and hollow,
made of fine wire. It stands for the absent father, together with the
lower part of his face, which appears on the monitor with spoken lines
from his letters to his son.
Sometimes Dawson plays the father role himself. He puts on his
horn-rimmed glasses, takes a pipe in hand. But time passes; the
boundary between the gloomy, diminished world of the lonely widower and
the memories of the son become indistinct.
And so the play which might start a little heavy and didactic branches
into more sensitive elements. One of the most beautiful and moving is
the story of the ring. It begins with a figure who represents the
father. A ring slips from his finger and falls into the water. The man
dives in after it. Dawson plays this with large swimming movements and
tiny finger people. The diver plunges deeper, finds the ring, puts it
on and drowns.
This is the third time Dawson has been a guest at the Fabrik. The
versatile dancer, a mime, former student at the Lecoq school, has
created a courageous, sometimes brittle piece in "Absence and
Presence', which gives form to the silent struggle of guilt and
conscience and the labour of saying goodbye with great sensitivity. No
light fare, but very honest theatre.
Audience Comments - Emails recieved in
response to the show
"The whole evening was thought provoking and
emotionally challenging, full of startling visual images and poetry of
movement from the moment we entered the installation (I loved the TV
reveal of the body) to the actual performance itself.
It seemed that you had embarked on a very
profound and private voyage of discovery to a defining moment in your
life. As an audience member I felt as if I was watching a French avant
guarde filmmaker's take on a dream that had been shot from a hundred
different angles and at a thousand different shutter speeds. It was
intriguing and mesmerizing at times and the use of the single lamp and
the wire statue was particularly effective in transporting us as if
through the lens of a hand held camera.
I loved the interaction between you and the
television particularly during the chess game and the story of the bolt
of phlegm really made me laugh out loud - as did the panto mime of you
playing the Nosferatu villain - that was hysterical!!!"
"I just wanted to let you know that I saw your
show at BAC last night and I was really moved by it. Maybe it's more
potent when you have lost a parent (as I have), but I really thought
the whole atmosphere and the way you tackled the subject was just so
poignant and moving. At one stage it really reminded me of 'Truly Madly
Deeply' a film that also moved and touched me greatly - maybe this was
also something to do with the style of the music that you
chose...creating an almost ghostly atmosphere. Anyway I was totally
transported by the piece.
The memory and the thoughts of my parent were up most in my mind as I
watched; The guilt and sadness and emptiness you as the relative feels
when your parent leaves you and the anger and frustration this causes
was all in there to be experienced. Plus the loss of the
maternal/paternal figure in your life - so beautifully touched on by
"My God, what a show. I really, really loved
it. I found it incredibly moving and beautiful, and so clear I felt I
understood every word of it. I think the subject-matter is really very
difficult emotionally, and
What's so amazing is that you make it possible for the audience to deal
with it, partly because the medium's mainly non-verbal, but mostly, I
Think, because you tackle the subject with such gentleness - which is
Completely you. Really, it's phenomenal. It's so easy to forget in This
daft profession what the theatre's really about, and then suddenly
Here's a piece like this, which can change lives, and I hope you're
Really proud of yourselves."
"I really did think it a beautiful piece of
theatre. I loved its quietness and gentleness particularly. It created
a mood, or series of moods, which I carried with me for a long time
afterwards, and found it acted on me on subtle ways."
"We were stunned and moved by your show, it was
fantastic and we have been talking about it ever since."