Review: Bounce in Insane in the Brain at Peacock Theatre

Performance: 27 Feb - 16 Mar 08
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Tuesday 4 March 2008

The banning of this production’s poster by London Underground was always going to encourage interest. Could this be the reason behind the packed audience for the UK premier of *Insane in the Brain*? Or maybe it was the show’s billing as a street dance version of One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest.

Any company taking on such an infamous text, which has already been made into a multi-award winning film, must have guts and excellent creative insight. Although Bounce definitely had the first, the latter was seriously lacking.

The main hurdle the company had to overcome was that street dance has rarely been able to portray emotion. Aside from the recent fabulous performance by Salah at Sadler’s Wells, I have never seen hip hop develop characters outside of its stereotypical roots.

Set in a mental asylum, the narrative begins with Randell Patrick McMurphy being sent for assessment. Battling against the head nurse Mildred Ratched’s rules, McMurphy momentarily liberates his inmates. Bounce seem to show little regard for taste when portraying people with mental health problems, drawing on some of the age old stereotypes for cheap laughs.

The bulk of movement is performed in unison – a surprising choice of choreographic device to use to portray individual characters. The musical choices, drawn from popular commercial hip hop, determined the structure and actions more than Ken Kesey’s text. The use of ballet to enforce discipline on the patients was a nice idea, but if it was intended to highlight ballet’s strict technique against street dance’s free flowing individuality then the use of continued unison really was a sticking point.

The dancers showed good technical ability, with Ryan Chappell, playing a wheelchair bound patient and Joe Jobs, a sympathetic guard, the only members of the cast who showed moments of embodying their characters. The rest of the piece was clearly divided into hip hop or story telling sections with very quick rather than slick transitions.

A staggeringly thoughtless low point was the depiction of electro-shock therapy. Three inmates dangling on wires fitted and shook in a distasteful attempt to use new surfaces and elevate the movement above the stage. It felt as if the tricks meant more to the company than the subject matter.

The best use of the street dance genre was a Victorian style cinema piece. A dance off between aristocrats and vagrants won hearty laughs but the video production quality was that of an average Youtube posting.

The performance was well received by the younger members of the audience; with X-factor style applause after almost every step, coupled with whooping and shout outs. If the purpose of this production was to bring teenagers to the theatre then it will probably fulfill its aim, but it is still mind-boggling why companies feel that they have to reconstruct classic tales to make them more accessible to young people. Creating an excellent hip hop show, or re-working a classic should have been two separate ventures for Bounce, as both the choreography and themes in Insane in the Brain were mediocre when combined.

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