By BRUCE DENNILL
Stomp / Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways, Johannesburg
It’s easy to take a show like Stomp for granted. It’s also misguided.
It’s been around for 28 years, has visited South Africa a couple of times before and is a staple on Broadway, with the relative ubiquity that all of that brings. It’s also a piece that, due to its structure, maintains a fair number of its core ideas.
But none of this makes Stomp any less enjoyable – or viscerally thrilling. The show’s appeal is multi-faceted, and it’s all built on the astonishing abilities and versatility of the performers. For the better part of an hour and a half, the cast of eight maintain an incredible pace, combining a number of skills that most performers would be happy to master in isolation.
There is, of course, the percussion, using everything from scrap metal to extending plastic tubes, shopping trolleys, basketballs, lighters and their own body parts. Each performer is an expert in all of these, but one of them at a time showing off their talents wouldn’t be nearly as exhilarating as the ramped-up dynamics that comes with their working together, combining already syncopated cadences into sometimes bewilderingly complex polyrhythms, often teeming with beats, but never congested.
Getting all of this right requires choreography of equal intricacy, meaning that the drummers also need to be confident dancers. And there is no shirking in terms of sophistication on this front – there is a set amount of space and props and instruments with hard, sharp edges, but the cast whips around the stage, criss-crossing each other’s paths and energetically interacting with a certainty based on careful step sequences and committed rehearsal.
An aspect of the production that is hugely undervalued is the wonderful aptitude for clowning displayed by the cast. Sharing strong communal chemistry, they link and enhance the drumming and tapping with amusing – and sometimes belly-laugh hilarious – physical humour, knowing glances and gentle ribbing. The latter is generally directed at the cast’s slightest member, Cade Slattery – bespectacled and pony-tailed and an excellent fall guy.
Perhaps the most striking facet of the show is the capacity of the performers to never allow a dip in their vitality and in the old-fashioned oomph they inject into every moment, skit and scene. The level of athleticism required to do this is on a par with many professional sportsmen and women and their fitness and stamina is as impressive in its way as their artistic talents, with Phil Batchelor leading the way with several extraordinary solo moments.
Stirring, stimulating and occasionally enjoyably silly – this is a production that improves on those that have been to South Africa before and will appeal to audiences across a wide age range.