Message in a Bottle
Reviewed – 19th February 2020
“Each moment is a highlight, each step a carefully chosen phrase. An organic amalgam of light, sound, choreography.”
“Message In A Bottle” is the latest extravaganza from Kate Prince and her ZooNation company. The queen of hip-hop, Prince has made her mark already with the hits ‘Some Like it Hip Hop’, ‘Into the Hoods’ and ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’. Drawing on Sting’s extensive back catalogue she has woven together a story of a refugee family in crisis. The more Juke Box Musicals proliferate in the West End, the more it becomes apparent that story tellers have problems fitting existing songs to a pre-conceived narrative. Whether Juke Box Dance (if such a term exists) is an easier option, I wouldn’t know, but the skill and virtuosity of the dancers make the story crystal clear and, for the most part, nothing jars with the choice of music.
Sting has often gone with the flow of the zeitgeist of socio-political opinion which, in turn, has shaped his lyrics. So it is no surprise that they lend themselves to the themes of displacement and civil war. Set in an unnamed country, we witness the plight of a community torn apart as their homes are destroyed, and we follow one family in particular on their journey to a new, initially hostile land. The music can’t tell this story on its own, yet the choreography can. Prince is a master of the art, ZooNation an inspiration, mixing street dance and ballet with ease. It is almost impossible to identify the individual dancers with the characters on stage, but no one needs to be singled out here. The whole company is exceptional; at times moving as one, breaking apart and coming together again with pops and pirouettes, break-dance moves and a gymnastic flair that is breath-taking.
We are swept along by the dual currents of the choreography and the music. “King of Pain” pinpoints the explosion of unrest, a black sun hanging over Ben Stones’ minimalist set. “Shape of my Heart” is a beautiful moment, a loving oasis amidst the chaos. “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” is a stunning combination of the dance, moving in perfect time to Andrzej Goulding’s projections and Natasha Chivers’ lighting. Each moment is a highlight, each step a carefully chosen phrase. An organic amalgam of light, sound, choreography. And the music. However, there are occasional jarring moments. “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”, for example, sat uncomfortably with the vision of black-hooded oppressors manhandling the refugees. It was impossible to divorce the original meaning of the lyrics from the scene being played out onstage. Elsewhere it worked better. The undertones of menace and stalking inherent in “Every Breath You Take” were well emphasised.
It’s not all doom and gloom. “Love is the Seventh Wave” opened up the skies to a dawn of hope, the black sun now a bright star. But the real stars of the show are the dancers. You’ll be singing Sting’s songs directly to them; “Every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you…”
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Helen Maybanks
Message in a Bottle
Peacock Theatre until 21st March
Previously reviewed at this venue: