Heartbeat of Home
Reviewed – 11th September 2019
“audiences will love the upbeat energy and the showstopping artistry of these outstanding performers”
Billed as a show about people leaving their home in search of a brighter future, the producers of the Irish dance sensation Riverdance now bring us Heartbeat of Home. Playing at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End, this almost two hour dance extravaganza brings not just a high octane group of Irish dancers, but representatives from the dance traditions of flamenco, Latin, and street dancing as well. Add to that a vocalist, backed by a gospel choir, and a terrific group of onstage musicians, the danger is that this show has too much talent and not enough of a narrative to bring it all together in a coherent way.
It is left to the cyclorama to present the story of these dancers, and it must be said that this one works to spectacular effect. It portrays mostly sea scenes in the first half of the show, including a ship leaving the shores of home, and a scene of a dazzling storm at sea. In the second half, which focuses on the lives of the emigrants in their new home, the cyclorama focuses on a variety of cityscapes, but also one impressive trip across the rugged scenery of the western United States. One cityscape in the show pays tribute to the iconic photograph of iron workers taken by Charles Ebbets. Here the choreography and set projections on the cyclorama come together seamlessly to present death defying dancing that really does look as though the dancers are performing on a beam high above New York City. In Heartbeat of Home, the whole effect is a bit like being at an IMAX theatre with live music and dancing. The talents of lighting designer Peter Canning, set designer Alan Farquharson, set projection designer David Torpey, with additional set projections by David Mathias, are all used with mesmerising effect.
Not surprisingly, the main reason audiences will seek out Heartbeat of Home is for the dancing and the music. It is a treat to watch the dancers enjoy showing off not only the moves of their own traditions, but bringing off a few moves from each others’ traditions as well. But this “fusion dance” style works better in the second half than the first, as one might expect. And if the time on stage is always weighted heavily in favour of the Irish dancers, their breathtaking sequences are what keep the show moving forward, and the audience cheering and applauding. Ably assisted by featured dancers Maggie Darlington and Bobby Hodges, Irish dance Choreographer John Carey delivers the goods, and anyone who enjoyed Riverdance will not be disappointed by Heartbeat of Home. The dancing is admirably supported by a band of highly talented musicians who work together flawlessly to play composer Brian Byrne’s lively music. Under the direction of drummer Mark Alfred, the music is as varied as the dancing, but once again, it is the Irish soloists who put on a stunning display of virtuosity. Patrick Mangan plays like the All-Ireland fiddle supremo he is, and Cathal Croke is another champion on the uilleann pipes. Robbie Harris on the bodhrán drum holds the audience spellbound, and the dancers in constant motion.
Heartbeat of Home is more of a hybrid than a true descendant of Riverdance, although it has several recognisable features in common. Nevertheless, it offers a hugely enjoyable evening in the theatre, and audiences will love the upbeat energy and the showstopping artistry of these outstanding performers.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Darren Bell
Heartbeat of Home
Piccadilly Theatre until 13th October
Previously reviewed at this venue: