Stomp is quite different to the performances you would usually expect to see on the West End. It’s not a play, since it doesn’t really have persistent story, but it’s not really a musical either, since the performances have little to no melody. Stomp describes itself as a performance about rhythm and the strong characters of its eight performers, whose personalities are allowed to shine through despite the show’s tight choreography and orchestration. Having been intrigued by the excellent yet brief performances I’ve seen before, one of which was part of the London 2012 Olympic Games’ closing ceremony, I decided to take a look at the full stage show with my partner Laura.
The venue which has been home to Stomp since October 2007 is the Ambassadors Theatre. Quite a small and tucked away building to be hosting such a commercial production, the theatre’s stage and seating areas are quite narrow, but also tall, allowing it to fit a deceptively large audience of up to 446 inside – 251 in the stalls and 195 in the dress circle. Nevertheless, it is still one of the smallest and most intimate theatres in the West End. With not a great deal of legroom, and Laura and myself both being reasonably tall, it certainly felt that way.
The show seems to be as popular as ever. We had seats at the front of the dress circle and could only see a handful of empty chairs from where we were. For a Thursday evening, this had to be a good sign. I was expecting lots of extremely well choreographed percussion-based performances, and this is certainly what was delivered. However, what I didn’t expect at all was to laugh as much as we did. I knew the production would have a cheeky sense of humour, but it is absolutely hilarious, which is quite an achievement considering the only clear spoken word used in the entire performance is the cast members muttering ‘alright?’ with a nod of acknowledgement to each other as the first join the stage. Everything else is done with nothing but facial expressions, body language and minimal vocal work, like the occasional sigh or cough.
The cast brilliantly made fun of themselves, each other and the audience without a single word. I wasn’t expecting the level of audience involvement that there was, or the ease with which the cast got everybody to participate. I’ve been interested in seeing Stomp ever since I saw a brief performance using primarily newspapers on TV some years back. This was part of the show, but was quite different to how I remembered it and a little bit over the top. One of the male performers used shredded newspapers to make a cheerleader costume and pom-poms, before making lots of loud cries and poses. While the absurdity of it had the entire audience roaring
with laughter and even other cast members struggling to keep a straight face, I
couldn’t help but feel it didn’t really fit the rest of the show.
The performances used a wide variety of simple objects and junk, just about anything basic which can be used to make a lot of noise. Buckets, barrels, shopping trolleys, pipes, even a brilliant segment which literally used kitchen sinks. However, with all the creativity in the world there’s still only so much you can do with percussion, so the performance definitely didn’t need to be any longer than the 90 minutes it was.