The Old Vic continues its tradition of offering creative and innovative theatre, here in the form of the Big Dance Theater’s production of 17c, an adaptation, through a series of vignettes, of excerpts and paraphrase from the diary of Samuel Pepys, with other related elements, modern and contemporary to Pepys, appearing as well. This is not Pepys as social or political commentator but an evocation of the physical and personal Pepys – his aches and pains, medical and moral. The episodes combine dance, music, monologue, commentary and video to build up a portrait of Pepys. There is something essentially very serious at the core here but it manages to centre itself well into a framework of something much lighter and moves easily within and between those two. A hint of the tragedy of Pepys, intimations of a potential and unrealized love very different from his habitual lust, is one of the sub-texts provided. The dance element is so good, both as choreography and performance, that one longs for it to continue, but the proportion allotted feels right for the context. The production raises issues around Pepys’ relations to his wife and women in general but keeps its focus on him, rather than on the abstract issues, which makes its impact more real and more effective than it otherwise would be.

17 C is the brain-child of Annie-B Parson’s Brooklyn-based dance company Big Dance Theater, with Parson providing direction, choreography and text. It is rare to see a production where words and movement (and music) are equally strong and essential – this happens here and this effective combination is embodied in the cast, who move and articulate the text with exceptional skill. The interplay of dance, music and text works wonderfully. A video component is present as well but this feels ancillary to the core of what is happening. Pepys diary is a good choice and Parson and her team of colleagues, including the cast, have succeeded in creating engaging, imaginative and thought-provoking theatre that is both serious and playful. Like all good art and performance, this production leaves an imprint of feeling and leaves one thinking.