views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

00 and His 7
St. James Theatre
18th March 2014


While big-ticket production Urinetown has turned the St James Theatre into a split-level dystopia upstairs, London Ballet Company have taken over the downstairs studio space, drawing a not insubstantial crowd in doing so. The cabaret-style space is an excellent fit for their most elegant and ambitious show to date, immediately immersing us in the classy but dangerous world of everyone's favourite spy, James Bond. The hero (Francesco Mangiacasale) is even swanning about as you filter in, grab a drink, and catch some tunes before the show begins proper. The venue is a million miles from the Bridewell, their usual home and one which staged this piece back in November 2012- and this proves to be one of its biggest assets and one of its downfalls.

There's no question this is a more complex show than the group have attempted than the previous I've seen. Usually content with a series of vignettes linked together by a theme, such as womanhood in Eve's Journey or threadbare narrative, as in Postcard From London, this takes a different approach entirely and attempts to be an actual Bond tale with their unique brand of dance weaved through. So, as you'd expect, we have all the usual tropes - Bond, Moneypenny (Rosanna Nevard), a mystery villian, a number of femme fatales and Bond girls seduced by the man himself (most notably Yooja Oh and Jenny Morrison) and speedy bike rides. And to director Sophie Francesca Olivia Wright's credit it does work, with the zippy and uncomplicated plot resting on tropes and the audience's assumed knowledge of the franchise carrying it along.

Admittedly, it does take a little while to get going. A jokey misfire of the infamous "barrel of the gun" opening sequence is a nice touch, and does endear us to Mangiacasale, making it obvious from the outset that the company hasn't lost their sense of humour. This chap is as much Bean as he is Bond. I'd reference Johnny English but outside of those Barclaycard ads, I'd be greeted with bemused stares as it seems I'm the only person to have witnessed it. No, this is very much the 1967 David Niven Casino Royale rather than the Daniel Craig offering. Even if our man gamely bares almost all in Craig's budgie smugglers.

As usual, there are hits and misses. Highlights include Morrison's seductive but playful dance to Goldfinger, Mangiacasale and vamp-done-good Oh's romantic dalliances fusing ballet, contemporary dance and brief injections of traditional ballroom, and many of the ensemble pieces. Less successful was the villain's "I'm going to rule the world" dance with an inflatable globe. Yet whether it was a nod-and-wink, Bond raving it up in the gallery during other numbers, or side-of-the-stage antics, there was always something going on, whether sacrilegious or immersive and world-building. And when things didn't work, it was more often than not due to the studio's rather small stage. In the Bridewell, the company have space to breathe, but here, despite the best will - and undeniable skill - of the dancers, it all felt a little cramped.

And for those who have seen London Ballet School's shows before, there's a hint of repetition here. Bond graced the stage in their previous London-centric performance as did the Marilyn/Madonna mash-up Sparkling Diamonds from Moulin Rouge! While they've attempted to do something different with the latter, it's simply not that different.

But if you're a newcomer to this group - or afeared of ballet in all its forms - it's worth reiterating what a talented bunch they are in both putting on a show and breaking down barriers. It's just that as undeniably splashy as this Bond is, it misses the mark of 00 heaven.

00 and His 7 ran from 17th to 21st March 2014 at the St. James Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Victoria (Victoria, Circle, District)

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