Review: Barrowland Ballet - Tiger Tale - Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells

Performance: 23 & 24 October 2015
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Monday 26 October 2015

Barrowland Ballet 'Tiger Tale'. Photo: Brian Hartley

Barrowland Ballet’s Tiger Tale may be for young audiences but at its core, it’s not really kid’s stuff. The Glasgow based company reconfigured the Lillian Baylis Studio at Sadlers Wells, placing the audience on four sides of a sort of cage of crooked strings made to look like shattered glass. Through this mesh we observe the mundane functioning of a nuclear family. Jade Adamson is the sweetly attention-seeking daughter to utilitarian mother Kai Wen Chuang and busy father Vince Virr. The trio abstractly invoke the bustle of everyday business at home through the precise extended and angled lines of fairly standard Limon-esque choreography. This is punctuated here and there by playful stomps and swivels, occasional giggles and the repeatedly spoken words: “morning” and “sorry;” through these which we learn that the family are caring and considerate of each other, even if the grind of the routine of family life has dulled them down a bit.

Things get wild, and a bit out of hand actually, when Vince Virr’s “dad” disappears offstage and returns as an orange-suited, be-whiskered prankster, who my 6-year-old immediately clocked: “That’s the tiger!” Virr proceeded to crawl over and sit upon the audience; he thrust his bare feet into faces; ate snacks out of their hands and drank water from their bottles uninvited; and carried off their rucksacks. This undomesticated tiger induced gales of laughter from the kids who delighted to see a grown up behaving so inappropriately, and made parents blush with the awkwardness perennially induced by forced audience participation. My kid and all the rest of them were howling it up through all of Virr’s zaniness, and the fleet-footedness of the danced sequences held attention even when the sillier antics subsided. So co-creators Natasha Gilmore and Robert Alan Evans get an A+ for engagement.

However, for all its energy, and the effort and skill of its game performers, Tiger Tale lacked dramaturgical coherence, or perhaps in an effort to be unconventional it just veered off into the dramaturgically bizarre. For one, it didn’t really focus much on the concerns of young people or children. The daughter character, with which the children in the audience were presumably being invited to identify, never did anything much except to dance out of her parents’ way. And oddly, the Dad-cum-tiger, seemed ultimately to function as a proverbial “tiger in the bedroom” revitalising his relationship with his wife through his feline cavorting which turned into a flirty focus on mum. When he started tickling her and stripped off her pantsuit to reveal a girlish Laura Ashley number, a little girl in the audience hilariously exclaimed, “Naughty Tiger!” prompting embarrassed and knowing giggles from nearby adults.

Tiger Tale was at times loads of messy fun, but as a “tale” it was just a sort of a mess. The chaos of getting to throw ping-pong balls all over the stage in the show’s final montage was certainly appreciated by every youngster and many grown-ups present, but there was no discernible thematic message for kids.

Jeffrey Gordon Baker is a transplanted New Yorker living in London; an artist and writer who has studied art, performance and aesthetics at New York University, Central St Martins and Birkbeck College. Find him on Twitter @jeffreyGordonB

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