Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; June 20, 2014

Charlotte Kasner

Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre in 'Rian'. Photo courtesy Sadler's Wells.

Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre in ‘Rian’.
Photo courtesy Sadler’s Wells.

Fabulous Beast has a reputation that precedes them. For various reasons, this is the first time that I have seen them and, on paper, I should have loved it. Their impeccable credentials held a lot of promise and I really did want to like them. But, “Rian” was obviously not the piece that was going to convince me.

It is billed as “an expressive cultural hybrid”: for which read ‘every cliché about Ireland under the sun with a bizarre bit that seems to have been inspired by Africa.’ The musicians were by far the best thing about the evening but even they couldn’t quite bring off faux Arabic. Short of dressing up as leprechauns and swigging Guinness in the wings, they had everything else. The evening opened with a Celtic harp centre stage, although it was the harpsichord that we heard. In fact, the harp was too little employed, drowned out by Irish pipes. The lighting was green, the costumes were green (with brown bits) – it looked like New York City on St Patrick’s Day when even the Guinness is reputed to be green. The dance was accompanied with variations on a theme of the Irish washerwoman with some wailing when they finished the toe-tapping bits. 30 minutes of it might have been quite jolly, but 95 strained credulity.

Costumes were dowdy. They reminded me of an Irish misery memoir set somewhere in the 1950s. The woman were dressed as their mothers – frumps – and the men started out looking like solicitors’ clerks and gradually discarded jackets and ties so that they then looked like dishevelled solicitors’ clerks. It was if a bus stop in a small Irish town had suddenly become very animated.

The choreography was relentlessly repetitive. There were some lovely moments and no one could fault the energy and commitment of the company, but if only they had been able to break out of doing everything unison. Motifs were repeated in groups of four as if the audience weren’t bright enough to get it the first time. There was one section where the dancers described circles of all sorts using arms, fingers, shoulders, head…One dancer in particular had wonderful follow-through. A tall man, his gestures seemed to go on forever – he could draw to the end of the rainbow. However, it served to highlight the fact that the other dancers weren’t quite as good because they all did exactly the same moves all of the time. Small flaws that would have gone unnoticed where thus highlighted – one dancer out of time briefly, one who couldn’t jump quite so well.

At one point they sat in a row in chairs and distracted from the musician by pretending to fall off, doze off and then outdo each other ‘s mania. By then, it just served to be irritating amongst the general ennui.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of the audience loved it. As seems to be increasingly common, they whooped, shrieked and hollered when it finally came to an end. The man in front of me seemed desperate to join in, jigging, jouncing and jittering throughout. He was often moving more than the dancers on stage. It did at least provide some distraction; his partner started out by looking embarrassed and then eventually joined in in a half-hearted manner. He was obviously totally mesmerised. The couple behind snorted and giggled their way through it and the woman next to me slurped and crunched on food and drink. It provided a cabaret that ran parallel to the action on the stage and at least kept me amused for what was a very disappointing evening. A small huddle of similarly-minded people huddled at the bus stop with one advantage: at least not staying until the very last minute meant that we got on the bus before the crowds.