views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Postcard from London
Bridewell Theatre
20th June 2013


Fran Mangiacasale dancing with the queen

Photography supplied by The London Ballet Company

Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. In a previous review for the talented London Ballet Company - Eve's Journey - we highly praised director Sophie Francesca Olivia Wright on her originality, accessibility and sense of humour. But in this undeniably entertaining follow-up, she seems to have gone slightly too far in the wrong direction.

Don't get us wrong - she's an exceptionally talented and vivacious director leading an equally fantastic cast. Everything we saw in this whistle-stop dance tour of London was bright and bold - but too breezy. Whereas previously we'd had real darkness and pathos alongside lighter numbers, there seemed to be little of that here, even when coming face to face with the victims of Jack the Ripper in the ghosts of Whitechapel.

If you haven't guessed by now, the concept is one of exploring some of the most famous areas of our great capital through dance. A mystery woman on Baker Street, the starlets of Shaftesbury Avenue and finally to arguably our crowning glory, last year's masterful Olympics. This is linked quite nicely with a coming-and-going narrative of a boy looking for a girl he meets on the plane on his way to London, in the comic opening number Flight of Fancy - so steeped in camp it wouldn't look out of place in Pedro Almodovar's latest effort, I'm So Excited! It paves the way for the more eclectic waxworks of Madame Tussauds which allow for escapism in The Queen, James Bond (street - geddit?) and Marilyn Monroe.

But this is also where the performance ran into trouble. It was all sometimes too literal and direct for something that should include "interpretive" dance. There seemed to be too much slapstick and not enough style. Two pieces suffered the most with this. Firstly, one named Have You Seen The Old Man? - unsurprisingly set to Ralph McTell's Streets of London - didn't know whether it wanted to be sympathetic or damning of the transient community. The second, a Bond pastiche, benefited from having the charming Fran Mangiacasale as the focus, but came too close to embarrassing high camp rather than playful knowingness. The use of masks of the Queen and David Beckham went on for long enough to become Reeves and Mortimer nightmare-inducing. The problem is equally puzzling because it's clearly not the theme - at times it soared, delightfully revelling in the mundane with the problems of taking the Tube in rush hour wonderfully presented.

One of the dancers in Postcard from London

Photography supplied by The London Ballet Company

Again, music was keenly chosen and ranged from showtunes and pop (including Baz Luhrmann's Sparkling Diamonds) to film themes (Bond) taking in modern pop orchestra in Leroy Anderson's The Typewriter and finally more classical pieces such as Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours. Immaculate, frequently witty choices that served the show well.

If you're paying attention, you're probably noticing the lack of focus on the dancing and more on the style. That's simply because what there was of it, as usual, was superb. Tight, well-observed and sharp - heck, even some of the things we've criticised were performed near-flawlessly. In fact, as far as the technical side goes, the only issue was the aforementioned ghosts, with the black-clad performers not quite invisible enough to disguise the fact they were dancing as themselves rather than really effectively manipulating the white sack puppet spooks.

And even when not dancing, Rosanna Nevard's expressive face, Mangiacasale's inherent cheekiness and the goofiness of Jenny Morrison, Emily Hughes-Lewis and Wright herself is always a pleasure to watch. Even when it's not laugh-out-loud hilarious, they grab you by the collar and keep going.

It's just that the biggest wins here come when Wright - as a director - and the cast are a little more restrained. There's an elegance with ballet, an elegance that all of these performers have in spades and can really show off. A little comedy goes a long way, and despite there being a touch too much here, there's no denying the talent, passion and drive that makes it a worthy view.

Postcard from London ran from 18th June to 5th July 2013.

Nearest tube station: Blackfriars (Circle, District)

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