Flicking through the TV channels on Sunday night, my attention was drawn by Sky Arts 2 which was showing Stomp – Live, the live performance which had been filmed at the Brighton Dome during its UK tour and released on DVD in 2008. As I settled down to watch it, I was reminded of what a powerful medium theatre can be and the extent to which originality can stimulate the senses.
The West End is in danger of becoming overpopulated with ‘commercialised theatre’ as it plays host to an ever-growing number of shows created in line with what audiences may find popular in today’s world. Musicals such as Queen’s We Will Rock You and ABBA’s day audiences number of shows the Brighton Dome and released on DVD in 2008 Mamma Mia! use the songs of beloved musical icons to draw in a crowd, while stage adaptions of the likes of The Bodyguard and Billy Elliot appeal to fans of the original films. The X Factor musical I Can’t Sing! also serves as a recent example of the theatre industry jumping onto an already popular platform and hijacking it for its own gain. Most of these shows have done very well for themselves in London’s West End and are deserving of their place there, but still, I feel as though the West End is losing a little bit of its soul as ever more emphasis seems to be placed on popularity rather than creativity.
Stomp is not a musical in the traditional sense. A performance of physical theatre, it brings music and comedy to the audience through the innovative use of the body and everyday objects to create a rhythmic dance spectacular which has won multiple awards and been seen by millions of people all over the world. Stomp was created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas and originated in Brighton in 1991, entering the West End when it opened at the Vaudeville Theatre in September 2002. It transferred to its current home at the Ambassadors Theatre in September 2007 and is now in its 11th year in the West End.
Watching Stomp – Live, I think I was most struck by how refreshing I found its originality. The show manages to engage the audience without words or song, creating an unorthodox form of music and dance which is enhanced, rather than diminished, by the lack of vocal accompaniment. There’s no need for clever word plays or plot twists, and there aren’t any themes or hidden subtexts; the performance is entertainment enough and the only message it sends to the audience is that beauty and joy can be found in the simplicity of ordinary day-to-day life. The cast use an assortment of mundane objects to create the performance, ranging from dustbin lids to basketballs, sticks to cigarette lighters, boots to plungers, and so much more… including the kitchen sink! One cast member, alone on the stage, interacting with the audience through clicking his fingers and clapping his hands, might not sound like most people’s idea of fun, but it somehow works. Perhaps on of its most endearing qualities is that it doesn’t take itself completely seriously; there is an element of comedy running throughout the entire show and one sideways look or a raised eyebrow is often all it takes to illicit a laugh from the audience.
Stomp is different to most of what can be found in the West End and its longevity there stands as testament to the enduring appeal of its unique brand of entertainment. Different is good. Different is interesting. It can produce something fantastic. Take a look at Cats for example? The notion of creating a show based on the works of a dead poet and dressing the cast up as cats sounds crazy, but it produced one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biggest hits. The musical ran for 21 years in the West End and spawned numerous international productions, winning an array of awards which include both an Olivier and a Tony for ‘Best Musical’.
The West End prides itself on the wide variety of shows it offers to the millions of theatre-goers who visit each and every year. ‘Commercial theatre’ brings in more than its fair share of those, there’s no denying it, but would I personally like to see more original ideas like Stomp set up home here? Yes, absolutely. The show, which added new routines, choreography and music to its West End production in 2009, remains fresh and exciting year after year and was a highlight of the musical segment of the Olympic Games’ closing ceremony in London 2012. Stomp provides a source of pure and powerful theatricality that is utterly compelling to watch and entertains its audience with an experience that can’t be rivalled. The rising number of film-to-stage adaptions and jukebox musicals have become slightly tedious and further servings of originality would be a very welcome addition to the West End in my view.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
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Page updated 18th October 2014