There were outcries from certain quarters when Bat Out of Hell The Musical had a stint at the London Coliseum, home of the English National Opera, where performances of the likes of Carmen and The Barber of Seville would ordinarily grace the stage. But it brought punters in, including many people who would not have otherwise have visited the Coliseum, and garnered enough critical and audience acclaim that a return to the London stage in 2018 was announced. This production of Swan Lake / Loch na hEala makes its own comeback to Sadler’s Wells as part of an ever-diverse programme, and, at the performance I attended, many were delighted by what they saw, giving the show an enthusiastic standing ovation.
A painfully slow start did not give the best first impression of a show which eventually made sense. It was like watching a detective drama on television, where unexplained and odd behaviour at the start is understood later on with the benefit of some context. Still, with all that sheep-bleating and ‘da-da’-ing going on, I wondered if I was becoming too much of a dance traditionalist, inasmuch as I longed for a performance without vocals. My personal distaste was so strong that I found the sound of a mobile telephone going off in the audience mid-performance an unusually welcome relief. I wasn’t particularly enamoured either by grown men calling out ‘nee-naw, nee-naw’ to depict a speeding emergency vehicle.
This isn’t a show to be categorised as dance or drama. This isn’t a problem: differing approaches to storytelling within one show are a good thing – consider stage musicals, where there’s spoken dialogue, singing and dancing. The show could, nonetheless, have done without making its audience watch someone have a cup of tea, a couple of biscuits, “and another cigarette”. This radical adaptation is set in Ireland and bears little resemblance to the Russian ballet version of Swan Lake, and a priest listed in the show’s programme only as The Holy Man (Mikel Murfi) is a far from an exemplary mascot for Western Christian organised religion. Just as well, then, that Murfi is a compelling narrator.
There are some redeeming features, to be fair. At 75 minutes, it is mercifully short, and the live band plays flawlessly. The choreography is, to be frank, nothing to write home about overall. On occasion, it resembled nothing more than exaggerated and flamboyant walking with a few arm gestures. On the other hand, there was a fleeting moment during a birthday party for Jimmy O’Reilly (Alexander Leonhartsberger) when an ensemble dance proved to be impressive. If O’Reilly is the protagonist, I couldn’t quite work out who the antagonist might be. Perhaps the character is so complex he is his own worst enemy.
Dealing head-on with some pertinent issues in contemporary society, such as mental health and the mistreatment of women, the show provides some food for thought. The melodies are mostly, if not entirely, distinctly Irish – this production goes for the subtler songs as opposed to more upbeat numbers. A good mixture of movement and music combine to result in a nuanced if uneven production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Performed by a company of 13 world-class performers including actor Mikel Murfi, this production is interwoven with storytelling, song and live music. Dublin-based band Slow Moving Cloud’s score combines Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences.
Michael Keegan-Dolan / Teaċ Daṁsa — Swan Lake/Loch na hEala
30 Nov – 02 Dec 2017
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R