Message in a Bottle


Phoenix Theatre, Stage review:

Like the music of Sting? How about over simplistic but endearingly hopeful tales of forcible displacement? Energetic dance? Well, Message in a Bottle, in the kinda-jukebox show for you!

Kate Prince brings her eclectic mix of choreography/direction to play with a tale crafted out of the ex-police frontman and solo artist’s music. Following 3 siblings from an undisclosed village that are torn apart by civil war. The show charts their journeys overseas, through camps, prison and eventual happiness in their new (again undisclosed) home. The story has moments of magic and emotional connection. Whatever can be levelled (and will be, by me in the next paragraphs) at the show, the ZooNation dancers throughout never stop giving their all in a show as bouncy as it is blunt.

Lights are arranged on either side of the stage to highlight the many shapes of the bodies; at the back we have a large projection wall that opens at points (very cleverly) to a slatted prison design. Although Andrzej Goulging’s projections are forgettable Ben Stones flexible set and the use of moving light boxes are not. Of the 3 leads, Jaïh Betote is most enigmatic to watch, imbuing a frightening strength and dignity to his character, integral in dealing with stories of humans in crisis.

As (recordings) of Sting’s wonderful voice blast out over the stage we see a blend of dance that is typical of Prince, narrative-heavy, mixing balletic influences with a hip-hop base. Lots of leaping and unfortunately a little on the depictive side, it works well for the predominantly younger audience in attendance. This is most likely the shows biggest draw (apart from its physical oomph) as telling the story of displacement, homelessness, death, rape, drug abuse and prostitution (Roxanne, you guessed) isn’t easy if you’re trying to keep everything PG. Nevertheless, the child-friendly vagueness of the piece does leave something to be desired.

The downside of the show is the ever repeated Why? drumming along in my head. Although Sting has a long history of supporting Amnesty International and activism, why does his work warrant underscoring the troubles of an unidentified nation? The choreograph0 although interesting is not ground-breaking and the story although touching brings very little new insights into the discussion of the refuge’s crisis. Rerecording of some songs by the likes of Beverley Knight and Lynval Golding is pleasant but again unexplained. The famous songs are enjoyable to behold but overall, I came away not knowing anything more about Sting’s music or message (in a bottle).

For diehard fans (sting-ers?) or parents with kids wanting a more cultural activity than plonking them on the iPad this is a dream come true! Don’t get me wrong, a section where a gay couple fight prejudices through dance to the Shape of my Heart does it hit its mark. The dance of lust and shame to Roxanne is another example of the message being delivered rather well. But in comparison to the joyful Tales of the Turntable or Some like it Hip Hop Message in a Bottle lacks a sense of complexity. Although its hearts in the right place in the end it merely boils down to talented dancers dancing along to a talented musician’s music.