BWW Review: MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, Peacock Theatre
Kate Prince is known for her unique blend of joyous, feel-good street and contemporary dance. She and the endless energy of her dance troupe, ZooNation, are responsible for West End hits such as Some Like It Hip Hop and Into the Hoods, which means it's no problem getting on board with new ideas - even when the concept raises an eyebrow.
Prince has set herself a challenge with Message in a Bottle, a show that seeks to explore the displacement of refugees through the eyes of one family fleeing civil war. A worthy story, but this to a backdrop of Sting's back catalogue? It's not a natural fit, but Prince's uplifting choreography and Sting's sincere lyrics - with underlying political tones - mean Message in a Bottle is a fully realised and hearty spectacle.
The opening numbers lack some structure and the introduction to our family of protagonists is not as clearly signposted as it could be, but there's wistful, lyrical work in "Desert Rose" that evokes a wonderfully carefree vibe, and the youthful romance for one of the sons in the family is a spirited duet for Lukas McFarlane and Nafisah Baba to "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic".
Baba is a rare talent; her long limbs, elegant poise and natural fluidity are magnetic. The storytelling may be predictable but the narrative flows through every pore, while McFarlane is accomplished in the various choreographic tricks and trills with superior stage presence. The pair together don't have a natural chemistry, but commit wholly to the cause.
Next comes the bleakness of civil war and a tumultuous sea crossing, complete with cumbersome life jackets and Natasha Chivers' eerie, atmospheric lighting. The pastel tones seen earlier in the village scenes are replaced with darker, sombre shades in some well-judged costumes from Anna Fleischle.
Act Two sees the bar raised, and the coherency of the story improves with a number of intricately staged and striking numbers. "The Bed's Too Big Without You" involves some clever lighting, projection and well-timed movement to convey a moment of emotional turmoil for McFarlane's character.
Effervescent hip-hop superstar Tommy Franzen (as another of the sons of the family) arguably steals the show with a moving duet tracking the birth of a new relationship with Samuel Baxter. It's a touching number danced to "Shape of My Heart", and the highlight of the show. Their delirious delight in the final moments has bags of authenticity.
There is something considered and sophisticated that gives Message in a Bottle its watchability. It has all the gloss, creative flair and first-class dancers, but the narrative structure and storytelling need a little tightening up for its audience to be truly drawn into the touching tale.
Message in a Bottle runs at the Peacock Theatre until 21 March
Image: Helen Maybanks