The book’s blurb provides some guidance: '[Osman's] poetic renderings of a spectral isle, together with Stephen Ellcock’s hallucinatory visual journey, reclaim Albion as an eternally inspiring and anarchic domain.’
Stress ‘spectral isle’, ‘hallucinatory’ and ‘anarchic’ (‘eternally inspiring’ not so much), and you have the tone of this vastly ambitious, but not quite realised, project.
The stage is murkily lit throughout (lighting design Andrew Ellis), creating the right atmosphere for a ‘spectral isle.’ Katherine Watt’s costumes, a deliberately shabby ragbag of timeless styles ranging from vaguely Elizabethan pantaloons to very modern denim shorts, and including outlandish mythical animal headgear, punt for ‘anarchic’.
BalletBoyz, England on Fire. Photo: Thomas Bradshaw
An on-stage orchestra sits at the back to our right, intermittently hidden and revealed by a translucent panel that rises and falls. They play unmemorable music by former BalletBoyz collaborators such as Charlotte Harding, Cassie Kinoshi and Keaton Henson, the latter a folk song full of yearning performed by Kami Thomson.
The musical element climbs up a few notches when the big cross of St George to our left is raised to reveal the post-punk band Gag Salon in their own box-like stage, loud and very anarchic. And actually, very enjoyable.
Fifteen excellent dancers, both male and female (a relative innovation for a company that built an enviable reputation as an all-male outfit, hence the name) power through all this in 10 sections, created for varying formations: ensembles, duos, trios, mostly energetic, often feral.
An early duet between the bearded Luigi Nardone and an elfin Artemis Stamouli is full of barely contained violence. Holly Blakey’s trademark punk group choreography points to in-your-face, joyless sex. Even Russell Maliphant foregoes his characteristic very slow, pensive movement in sections that, although softer, blend into the general frenzy.
It’s an unremittingly bleak and nihilistic snapshot of England today, a post-punk view of the underbelly of a decaying land, where politicians feel free to describe homelessness as ‘a lifestyle choice.’
Quotes from the book are delivered on voice-over, ending with the repeated ‘England is a hothouse flower and all the glass is cracked.’
Uplifting it isn’t. With so many creatives involved it lacks coherent development, meaning that although we’re meant to be on a journey, it is an episodic one, leading nowhere. Which is a pity, because the idea is good and a tighter work would have delivered a bigger punch.
|BalletBoyz, England on Fire review
|Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP
08 Nov 23 – 11 Nov 23, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour 10 mins approx. No interval
|Click here to book