Message in a Bottle – Peacock Theatre, London

Reviewer: Jane Darcy

Director and choreographer: Kate Prince

Message in a Bottle is an exhilarating, joyous dance-theatre show. It takes the darkest of themes – migrants fleeing oppression – and by facing the darkness head-on, manages to create something that is ultimately a hymn to the courage and endurance that makes us human.

Director and choreographer Kate Prince collaborates with Sting, using nearly 30 of his songs, including, of course, his Message in a Bottle, his great SOS anthem to the world. Around these Prince and dramaturg Lolita Chakrabarti have created a moving story of a loving family driven out by civil war. Family members are separated, and undergo traumatic journeys, ending up on different shores. But somehow the faith expressed in the lyrics helps them endure.

The dancers of ZooNation, Prince’s company, are a fabulous team, whose unstoppable energy and exuberant moves convey more than words ever can the sheer vitality of humanity. Prince’s choreography uses hip-hop’s rich variety (she describes hip-hop as being ‘like a massive jar of honey’) in endlessly imaginative ways, bringing out the strengths of individual dancers while maintaining the ensemble’s fundamental bond.

There are two touching love stories. Fields of Gold becomes the theme which unites the young man and woman who fall in love early in the show. Englishman in New York could have been written for the second love story, that of one of teenage boys arriving in an utterly strange New York.

Each of the songs is a gem, and in Message in a Bottle, they glisten in new ways, the lyrics re-empowered by the story they are used to tell

Other creative elements are beautifully designed. Natasha Chivers’ lighting is almost a set in itself. A golden circle of light hangs over the warm opening scenes. But all too soon the lights become sinister. There is a dark sea voyage and then a grey detention camp, with its relentless search beams. Strange doorways of light appear, but quickly swallow anyone who goes through one. The lighting particularly complements the brilliant set and video design of Ben Stones and Andrzej Goulding. Together they create the heaving seas of the desperate voyages and, in contrast, the cool blue light of a New York club whose enigmatic stylishness excludes the lonely migrant.

Another memorable scene recreates the dreary darkness of a city’s red-light district, where louche figures become part of an unreadable underworld: the setting for the song Roxanne.

But the resilience celebrated in hip-hop wins through and the show ends on a spectacular high.

Runs until 14 October 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Exhilarating, life-enhancing

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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