“That’s the one where they bang brooms on dustbins isn’t it”, is the usual response when Stomp is brought up in polite conversation. “How do they make a whole show out of it” usually follows, a sentiment shared by my mother who turns to me every West End Live and says “I enjoyed it but I don’t know if I could watch it for ninety minutes.” I agreed.
This has meant that even though I’ve pretty much seen everything on the West End, Stomp has never quite got to the top of my to-see list. That was until last night, when I finally answered the question, how long would Stomp hold my attention for? 110 minutes. Basically the entire length of the show.
Though my attention may have waned slightly during some of the comedy routines (they got a little too silly), this carefully paced and structured show never out stayed its welcome. And most importantly, it didn’t leave me with a headache, because, like the bins, loud banging noises make little more than a cameo appearance.
Stomp is arguably the most traditional production on the West End at the moment. It was about five minutes in when I suddenly realised I was watching a tap show. For the next few minutes I was carried by the same giddy feeling that took me through Billy Elliot, Top Hat and Crazy For You. And then we had comedy, and then music, then musical comedy, and so on and so on. It was practically Vaudeville.
Stomp, you see, isn’t just one long performance, it’s sketch based, with each musical number given its own identity. You may not come out humming a tune but you’d easily remember the difference between the number with u-bends and number with the lighters (explaining the fire warning at start).
And the performers aren’t just there to beat bins with brooms; they’re the heart and soul of the show, each with their own recognisable character. There’s the geek/fool who can’t quite get the moves right (and who leads much of the comedy), the “wired one” whose intensity gets on the nerves of his fellow performers and the newbie, desperate to find his place within the company.
Of course there’s the leader, who doesn’t just take charge of the performers but also the audience. Audience participation, used sparingly, is a way of keeping us engaged in a show that is pretty much what you see is what you get. It’s the cast’s way of making sure we’re paying attention. Not that the routines need the help. Their mixture of complex synchronicity and energy are enough to keep you focussed.
Stomp for me was a really pleasant surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and couldn’t recommend it enough as a night out with a bit of a difference and its focus on the visual gives it a near universal accessibility. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s aware of this, not taking itself too seriously, maintaining a solid pace, and, most importantly, never repeating itself.
Spending 110 minutes working hard to impress its audience, it’s not hard to see how Stomp has been in the West End for eleven years, and I imagine it’s going to be here for a few more to come.
Review by Max Sycamore @pheatreland
Evenings: Monday, Thursday to Saturday 8.00pm and Sunday at 6.00pm
Matinees: Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 3.00pm
Updated 7th October 2014