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Fabulous Beast Theatre - 'The Flowerbed'

by Stuart Sweeney

June 20, 2006 -- The Pit, The Barbican, London,

In 2005, Fabulous Beast Theatre burst on the London dance scene with its deconstructed, contemporary dance version of “Giselle” and the national critics were out in force to see the opening night of “The Flowerbed”, an extensively revised version of a work from 2000.

The programme notes tell us that a Fabulous Beast performance “…can consist of tragedy, slapstick, opera, yoga, ballet, Footlight review and contemporary dance all moulded into a dynamic format which is as moving as it is gruesome as it is raucous” and that accords with “The Flowerbed”, albeit that slapstick, the gruesome and the raucous dominate the mix.

Director Michael Keegan-Dolan and his team of actor/dancers provide plenty of laughs, bizarre events and theatrical business to retain our attention. The basic story is a present day “Romeo and Juliet” throwing two newly neighbouring families into conflict, one lumpenproletariat, the other middle-class. The former drink, smoke and watch TV continuously, while the latter worship a neat lawn and aerobics. Although in the case of the lawn, worship is fetishistic rather than holy and the scene with Michael M. Dolan’s middle-class husband kissing and fondling his lawn-mower and exciting himself, more than somewhat, stretched out face down on the grass, is hilarious.

A bloke with a beard and hairy legs plays the working-class Mum. More subtly, and the penny dropped only when I looked at the programme, the middle-class “son” is played by a woman, Rachel Poirier, who toured with Rambert a few years ago.

The movement requires deceptive power and precision and this Tanztheater work brought to mind DV8 and Matthew Bourne’s “Play Without Words”, although “The Flowerbed” has a rawness that plays no part in Bourne’s palette.

The central problem is that the class stereotype jokes come over and over again and when half-way through there is a supermarket run, the contents of the two families’ trolleys are predictably beer and crisps on the one hand and cleaning materials on the other.

The relationship between the working-class daughter and the middle-class boy provides a change of mood from the battles over life-style and a disputed flowerbed, and a love scene perched on a swing provides a lasting and touching image. Nevertheless, the unlikelihood of the two dysfunctional families producing such sensible and sensitive children undermines the narrative, especially in the case of the daughter, who is more Eastbourne than EastEnders.

The ending is closer to “Hamlet” than “Romeo and Juliet”, with the two families wiped out in an apocalyptic fight when neither can accept their children’s love affair, but we seem no further forward with few insights or questions to take away from the theatre. Thus, although entertaining, “The Flowerbed”, with its unconvincing characters, fails to resonate as Tanztheater can.

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