‘Message in a Bottle’ review
Time Out says
Wonderful performers can’t save this hip hop dance show based around the music of Sting from being a fundamentally terrible idea
The last time hip hop and the music of Sting coincided in any significant manner was when P Diddy turned ‘Every Breath You Take’ into ‘I’ll Be Missing You’, a paean to his late pal Biggie Smalls. They’re not an obvious fit – although a surprising number of artists have sampled the work of Gordon Sumner, from 2Pac to The Weeknd.
It turns out that Kate Prince, the powerhouse behind the ZooNation hip hop dance troupe, has been a lifelong fan of Sting and The Police. ‘Message in a Bottle’, two years in the making, is therefore something of a passion project, stuffed to the gills with his hits from across the decades, in new arrangements courtesy of Alex Lacamoire, of ‘Hamilton’ fame, who has punched up the beats to add hip hop bounce.
Sting’s earnest socio-political leanings in his solo work, and his love of world music influences, lend themselves to a tale of the refugee crisis – but the fact that the storyline came after the idea of using his music is apparent. There’s a by-numbers feel to how a family is torn apart by civil war and flees to another country, and very little in the way of emotional connection as we are bustled along to the next scene, next song.
Improbabilities pile up, and the ending is preposterously saccharine. Where’s the anger? Prince doesn’t call on the darker side of hip hop dance, but sticks to showcasing the robust b-boy skills of her company, mixed with punchy contemporary moves.
It’s the dancers you should see the show for: their energy and exuberance are unflagging and astonishing. The opening ensemble piece, where individuals bust out with explosive tumbling jumps that resemble Chinese opera acrobatics, sets the tone. The heavy lifting is done by the trio playing the family’s three grown-up children – Natasha Gooden, Lukas McFarlane and the great Tommy Franzen – who all combine polish with power. Meanwhile, Nafisah Baba brings long-limbed elegance, Samuel Baxter storms through an incredible array of street-dance tricks, and you could watch Gavin L Vincent’s windmills for days. They’re great: but they don’t save a project that seems so fundamentally misconceived.