Message In A Bottle – review

Peacock Theatre
Review by: Lolade D Ajale
Published: Wednesday, 26 February 2020, 5:07pm
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I’ve had my fair share of bad luck when it comes to watching plays and musicals that have been inspired by the music of a particular artist.  But how about a dance performance created by ZooNation, a dance-theatre company whose work I admire greatly? I certainly didn’t need to be asked twice to review their new show, Message In A Bottle, and was quite excited to be offered the chance.

Message In A Bottle is about a village community that has come under attack. That’s all I was able to grasp from the two-part show. Set to the music of the legendary Sting, and paying attention to his lyrics, I was also able to sense a strong theme of separation, longing, survival as well as the Refugee Crisis running through the storyline.

Founded by Kate Prince, ZooNation has brought many awe-inspiring performances to the stage such as Into The Hoods, Some Like It Hip Hop and Sylvia to name a few (I’m still holding my breath for Sylvia to make a comeback), so my expectations were high for this much anticipated new show at The Peacock Theatre. Unfortunately, I struggled with this show as it was lacking a few of their signature ingredients that makes their work engaging as well as accessible to a wide audience.

I felt that a lot of concentration was required, but as the performance progressed I realised that there wasn’t much to focus on besides the endless repetitive movements made up of staccatos, breakdance, flips and spins. The dancers gave very strong performances and I must highlight the fact that every movement was unleashed with great zest as if we have never seen it before. The choreography was overindulgent and failed to evoke any empathy from me.

Noticeably, there was no narration or central characters – or so I thought. This completely went over my head. The absence of narration also prevented me from connecting with the plight of the displaced community and their problems. Assuming that everything will be okay eventually like in previous ZooNation’s storytelling, I found myself zoning out in the midst of this overly busy show.

I absolutely love the music of Sting and anyone who is also a fan would appreciate hearing a good selection of his head bopping and foot tapping songs.

The stage was rarely given a chance to breath and seemed crowded for most of the time. One of the few pieces that I found relieving and interesting to watch was “The Bed’s Too Big Without You” where a solo dancer skilfully negotiates with images that were being projected onto the stage and with a bedsheet. The eponymous piece, Message In A Bottle, also stood out due to few dancers being on stage, but the beauty of it was short-lived as the ensemble bombarded the scene again.  Roxanne, although performed with much sauciness under a red lighting state confirmed that this was another padded out show regardless of its artform.

I absolutely love the music of Sting and anyone who is also a fan would appreciate hearing a good selection of his head bopping and foot tapping songs. The sound quality is excellent while the lighting design and projection produces goosebumps pretty much during each track. In fact, I would have been more satisfied if this was simply a light and projection exhibition with Sting’s songs.

It is applaudable that a storyline has been weaved from a collection of Sting’s songs even though the end result on stage is an overindulgent borderline ‘variety show’ that I found uninteresting.

NEED TO KNOW: Message In A Bottle is at the Peacock Theatre until 21 March 2020 | See Listing For More Information | Read interview with Nafisah Baba