Stomp at Grand Opera House
Let’s just get one thing straight. I have two left feet. I have no sense of rhythm. I couldn’t even clap in time to John Cage’s 4’33”. And I never particularly minded about not having those skills. Until now. Now – oh yes - now all I want to do is wander around the house making my housemates steadily more irate by dropping cool beats with upturned mugs, run rampage down the street on rubbish day by playing with everyone’s dustbins, sit in the library around finals flicking pages in a nonchalant and rhythmical fashion. This is my dream. And I will clutch this dream to me until that tragic realization, once again, that I was not destined to be a percussive person. At all.
So what, or who, could have torn and replaced the dreams of a little girl who always wanted to be an astronaut?
It was Stomp.
Stomp is a percussive and dance show that has swept the world. There are up to three companies touring and performing in the UK and two American casts touring as well. They’ve even collaborated with The Muppets. Yep. That’s how big they are. Although the show describes itself as physical theatre, on their website they reassure you that Stomp isn’t about music taste, but about rhythm, and that ‘everyone knows rhythm, if only from the beating of their own heart’. (They clearly haven't met me).
My friend and I made our way to our seats in the Grand Opera House – he’d seen it before and had jumped at the chance to see it again - whilst I eyed the set. ‘The set is full of what look like very hittable things’, I wrote knowingly in my notepad. And then the show began, and I gradually forgot to write things down. From the first scene, which starts slowly and then builds, one could discern the mood of the show. One guy comes on stage, idly sweeping and desultorily marking out a rhythm with his broom. He is joined by someone else with a broom, and then someone else, and someone else, until the stage is filled with sweepers, each creating their own rhythm that ties in perfectly with the whole. And the result is not a cacophony, but an electric sound that somehow keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wait for the unused beats, for the drop, for the sudden change in note, for the final, exultant clash. The tempo at which the performers move is incredible: it is a tightly choreographed dance show that creates something new and inventive with each scene, from the most basic starting points. The objects that they create scenes out of include huge metal sinks (complete with marigolds) hanging from around their necks, basketballs, a bin bag full of rubbish including polystyrene cups, plastic bins, mops, sand… the list is endless. And for a 100 minute show without a narrative or any speaking, they need to be inventive to keep the audience’s attention.
The show was very slick in that the different choreographies rolled right into one another, and often incorporated a clean-up from the previous scene’s mess. I would have liked to have seen different characters portrayed with each scene, but instead the audience learned early on which member of the cast would forever play the clown for audience laughs, which guy was the leader of the group and was used as the audience mediator, and which guy was the ‘fit one’ of the group who could impress with his break-dancing skills. The development of character early on was a device that held the show together with a kind of linearity, but it meant that it seemed halfway to becoming a narrative without actually going the extra mile to do so. Aural humour was plentiful, as one would imagine, but the lack of speech in the show meant that the cast relied too much on slapstick and innuendo to provoke laughs. A scene with long rubber tubes as the instrument was obviously bookended by penis humour, in an infantile episode of tube-length comparison. I felt that some of the ‘comedic’ scenes were predictable and overworn, often resulting in my rolling my eyes rather than laughing, and this detracted from – on the other end of the scale – the clever and original choreography.
The choreography is stunning, the rhythmic melodies created sound faultless (to an untrained ear, at least), and the overall visual effect is very impressive. The aesthetic of the show is one of urban decay: the set is comprised of scratched street signs, old bins and saucepans and other aforementioned hittable things, all with a rubbish-tip air to them. The costumes are grey-hued, perhaps slightly ripped, and covered in paint. Everyone looks like a cooler, younger and probably more percussively talented version of the builder that your mum hired to paint the kitchen.
Although I felt that the lack of a narrative really was a lack (and needn’t have been), Stomp was a show that just oozed with talent, and some really spectacular scenes of physical skill. It will be at the Grand Opera House until the 24th March, and you can book tickets here. And now, please excuse me, while I go and annoy my housemates by bashing the crockery.