BWW Review: SOMNIUM: A DANCER'S DREAM, Sadler's Wells
Trust me, dishing out two stars as a fully fledged member of the Strictly Come Dancing superfans is a painful choice. Although a deeply personal story, Somnium: A Dancer's Dream fails to successfully translate its many ideas to the stage in a satisfying show.
Neil and Katya Jones are not only Strictly Come Dancing professionals, but one of the most triumphant couples on the competitive circuit to feature on the BBC show. They have won the Amateur World Championships and competed at the top end of the Professional one before joining Strictly.
With their talent and creativity, surely they could create a tour de force dance show, brimming with originality? Alas not - Somnium is a bitty production, bursting with ideas, yet never settling on one specific focus.
Ticket sales may have been poor for the four performances (the top circle is closed off for two of them) but Neil and Katya should be admired for pushing their dream all the way to the Sadler's Wells stage. It's taken 15 years to get Strictly to London's premier dance house, and as they dance an idyllic rumba that completes Act I, it's hard not to get caught up in the achievement of getting Latin dancing on this particular platform.
To the love story. We are taken briefly through the lives of the couple's parents, their meeting, the birth of Neil and Katya in the north of England and St Petersburg respectively, and their first meeting at Blackpool Tower Ballroom. We're then taken on an accelerated journey of their dating while competing. Romantic music interspersed with something more rocky and intense to denote the strain of competition. It's busy and chaotic, and - with a few tweaks - could be an effective storytelling device.
The real disappointment comes from how the story is acted out. The Joneses very much ham up their love story on stage; there is little authenticity on show until glimmers are seen in the wedding rumba section. Facial expressions are exaggerated and there is no feeling of the chemistry the audience want, as we fail to get the full picture of how they fell in love and instead have silly interludes of men in fringed catsuits doing the "Apache (Jump on It)" dance.
Act II sees a diversion to the dressmakers. There are moments of high camp featuring a male ensemble who gyrate away to the music of RuPaul as Katya completes a party piece of swift changes where a different dress is revealed each time. There's an extravaganza featuring UV lights that bring the costumes to life, dancing as though by themselves. Is it tacky or unique? The audience can decide, but it can't be denied that a lot of personal love and passion has gone into Somnium - whether that is to its detriment or not...
Casualty star and Strictly alum Charles Venn is a curious choice for the role of Richard Porter, the Joneses' dance coach and Narrator. Logistically, his role is to cover the costume changes whilst adding clarity to the story.
It should be a fun, tongue-in-cheek addition, but Venn's portrayal is decidedly Royal Shakespeare Company. The setting up of his final lines of the show are also clumsily done: as the excitable press night audience packed with Strictly stars cheer and holler, Katya urges them to hush so Venn can deliver his final line (something predictable about being remembered...), meaning his presence sits awkwardly amongst the heady, celebratory ending.
Interestingly, Somnium features no references to Strictly itself. The show ends when they win the World Championships.
At just over an hour, aside from the interval, Somnium suffers too in its brevity, ideas that are frustratingly rushed could be developed. The Joneses are highly creative, intelligent choreographers, but too much of Somnium is unfinished or unstructured half-ideas.
It's clear from the plethora of costumes, and other production values, that a lot of money has been spent, but more time is required for this dream to be fully realised and become more than just another titbit for the Strictly superfans to devour before the next bright, shiny offering.
Somnium: A Dancer's Dream ran at Sadler's Wells 20-22 June