Words and Music: Jules Maxwell
Director: Ben Wright
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The high art forms of dance and opera feel like the last to embrace the inclusion of disabled artists into their regular programming and The Lost Thing, a co-production between the Royal Opera House and Candoco Dance Company, is an attempt to redress the balance with an adaptation of Shaun Tan’s illustrated book. Yet, although the sentiment is to be applauded, it is a shame that the show has no clear idea what it wants to be.
City-living Shaun finds a “lost thing” on the beach one day that no one wants to claim. With everyone too busy to even pay attention Shaun takes the creature home much to the disgust of his parents who demand its removal. So, Shaun continues to search for the home of the Lost Thing but can he also find what he’s looking for?
Opera, musical, dance piece, theatre, The Lost Thing is a hodgepodge of styles that never quite satisfies in any of its influencing genres. The plot is relatively thin, but the frequent repetition of lyrics extends the evening to 90-minutes including an interval without adding much clarity or thematic cohesion. The music styles are unhappily eclectic covering opera, choral, musical, jazz and even a bit of hip hop to signify the arrival of the creature initially but none of it really gels as an integrated score.
And that strange mixture of styles applies across the other production decisions; first-person storytelling from Shaun is mixed with multiple narrators, there seemingly to strengthen the vocal sound but without an everyman character purpose. Equally, within the plot, Shaun finds the creature on the beach which aligns with the sunny background of the animation and props that imply summer, but within the same day its snows and its Christmas.
The performances are all very high quality with Joel Brown’s Shaun leading both the show’s song and movement, guiding the audience through the story. The integration of disabled performers and musicians is so easily done it’s a wonder that it has take this long with Soprano Victoria Oruwari and Bethan Langford’s Mezzo-Soprano standing out. And there is plenty of talent among the musicians performing a wide-ranging score.
Yet, it’s hard to know who The Lost Thing is really aimed at, the story is very simple but the lyrics are often strange and alienating, relying on the performers to sing across the music often in a down beat – for what is essentially badged as a Christmas show it’s not very cheering or magical. The climate change/love of nature theme embodied in the two to four dancers that make up the Lost Thing – designed by Rike Zӧllner to look like an unappealing pile of cabbage leaves – is rather uninspiring, but Douglas O’Connell’s animated city backdrop is really enjoyable. High production values and great performances aside, like the creature Shaun finds on the beach, this will leave you feeling like a lost thing too.
Runs Until: 4 January 2020 | Image: Stephen Wright