I would recommend the show to any parents or teachers wishing to encourage their children in the art of rhythmic appreciation
‘Stomp’ has been on the London stage for 13 years.
During this time, our relationship with music and rhythm-be it as consumers, punters, or practitioners – has altered greatly.
Due to the high turnover of so-called ‘dance music’ videos and films (depicting hip-hop, r&b , two-step, grime, etc.) on a greater number of cable channels, as well as the proliferation of reality TV dance shows - not to mention ‘YouTube’ clips on the internet - every young Tom, Dick, and Sally feels that rhythm on demand is theirs to command; this show suggests that this may not be so easy.
Over the course of one-and-a-half uninterrupted hours, the talented 8-strong team (6 men and 2 women) utilise physical and instrumental percussion with great verve and skill. They demonstrate a level of technical excellence that is commendable and exhilarating, but – due to a lack of binding narrative and/or harmonic cohesion – slightly monotonous.
The evening starts with a solitary figure (our nominal silent narrator) entering to sweep the stage. He uses his broom to create a rhythm, and is soon joined (in stages) by the other performers as they build a syncopated interplay of taps, brushes, and rhythmic accents.
And so, the template is set: members of the cast enter the stage to use various everyday items – and their own bodies - to establish a (non-verbal) poly-rhythmic ‘dialogue’ (presumably to inform us of the pulse that exists all around us).
We witness the cast use – at different intervals – such items as matchboxes, rubber tubing (cut and held at different lengths to achieve different tunings), shopping trollies, paper bags, flip-top Zippo lighters, and – yes, you’ve guessed it – four ‘portable’ kitchen sinks in order to make the point… Over and over again.
In an attempt to take the proceedings (literally) higher, at one point four of the performers are suspended above the stage on a scaffold comprising four makeshift percussion kits. These are made up of such items as car wheels, plastic tubs, and various pots and pans. Alas, while the ensemble playing is undoubtedly impressive – the overall effect is as flat as the set.
More effective are the ‘down-to-earth’ sections: a solo ‘clapping workshop’ given to the audience near the end is a delight, as were the ‘juggling cans’ and ‘basketball’ sections.
The main problem – as the show progresses - is that it presents a series of crescendos without affording the audience any emotional highs. Without a story, bursts of harmony, or character development, it feels a bit like ‘diminishing returns’.
A solo ‘clapping workshop’ given to the audience near the end is a delight, as were the ‘juggling cans’ and ‘basketball’ sections.
Despite good physical work from the cast, at times they look bored.
Maybe this is due to the fact that the only member given a consistent character is the resident clown/’doofus’ ; he seems to be out ‘of the loop’ but is (on not very close inspection) as capable as the rest. It’s a simple theatrical trick; one that any audience member over eight years of age (or who’s ever been to the circus) will be conversant with. Alas, despite the physical dexterity, it’s the only bit of theatre we are given.
I would recommend the show to any parents or teachers wishing to encourage their children in the art of rhythmic appreciation (for this is surely the foundation of both physical and musical intelligence); however, if you want narrative coherence, and/or musical and emotional intensity… I suggest marching to the beat of a different drum.
‘Stomp’ is now a London institution and – no doubt – when it opened 13 years ago it was fresh and innovative. If it wants another 13 years on the West End stage, I suggest some poly-tones to accompany the polyrhythms.
Info: In celebration of Stomp London’s 13th birthday (February 14, 2015), Stomp will host a Gala Night for Teenagers to acknowledge its own 13th birthday in London, Ambassadors Theatre, West Street, London WC2H 9ND | Book tickets