Peacock Theatre (venue)
19 February 2020 (released)
20 February 2020
Marrying contemporary dance with Sting’s extensive songbook to reflect the refugee crisis was never going to be straightforward.
Sting, of course, is used to working in a world of varied styles, from making medieval music to collaborating with Shaggy.
As director and choreographer, Kate Prince has staged Message in a Bottle so its intimate moments are packed with detail to keep the audience engrossed.
However, using the concept to highlight an important issue is not as effective as they would have planned, with some of the messaging lost in busy and convoluted staging.
This is a shame because the cast of dancers, when they get their moments, show why they are great, pulling from their backgrounds as pop star backing dancers and performing in hip-hop musicals.
It can be tricky to keep the issue of displacement from feeling too heavy, but the dance-musical pulls away from getting too deep once the conflict element is introduced during ‘Fields of Gold’.
The tough and brutal aspects of war were treated artistically, not explicitly, which worked in its favour.
However, the struggle for clear light to balance the severity leaves the production in a rather confused middle, and sometimes the story was lacking too.
A showcase of Sting hits has a set list of expectations, but the theme was stretched too far when it was unclear where tracks like ‘Roxanne’ fit in the narrative.
It’s weird because two of the obvious hits worked well before the interval break.
‘Every Breath You Take’ was accompanied by a beautifully staged piece reflecting the fences put up around refugees, whilst the title track was a manic explosion to revel in.
Later, ‘Shape of my Heart’ was a neat love story perfectly executed and beautiful to watch, with two dancers performing like they were screaming something important but not trying too hard.
It packs a lot into under two hours, including a 20 minute interval, and it’s not long enough to get boring.
It’s important to reflect the all too real grief and trauma suffered by displaced people around the world, and whilst the creators have their heart in the right place, it sometimes just falls short.
Without a big ending finale, one of the best moments comes in the encore performance of ‘Message in a Bottle’, which brought a little light back into proceedings as dancers had a little fun solo time to shine. It’s just a shame this only came alive once the plot had finished.
If you are a big Sting & The Police fan who wants to watch contemporary dance and wrap it all up succinctly, you’ll have a great night. For everyone else, it will just about do.
Message in a Bottle runs at the Peacock Theatre until Saturday 21 March 2020.