Review: Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre in The Flowerbed at The Pit, Barbican

Performance: 21 Jun-8 Jul
Reviewed by Lisa Haight - Wednesday 28 June 2006

I have seen many different versions of Romeo and Juliet, both live and on screen, from Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 version to Baz Luhrman’s 1996 one. However, I’ve never quite seen anything like Michael Keegan-Dolan’s 2000 version which was revived for bite06 at the Barbican

Keegan-Dolan’s take opened with a suburban image of two identical houses standing side by side. At the start of the show, one house had red and white tape covering the door and window and a front garden with near dead grass, whilst the other house had a meticulous front garden with a stone path though it and grey blinds covering the windows; both visually indicative of the families who owned them. On the roof of the home with the blinds perched a boy repeatedly throwing white paper aeroplanes into the audience whilst his new neighbours tore down the tape and moved in with their British Red Cross carrier bags, TV, beer, cigarettes and Christmas tree. As they moved in, next door started watching them through their blinds.

What took place from there involved different images of families and their secrets and/or domestic, and at times violent, interactions with each other. For example, the conservative, bored looking Father in his grey shirt, tie and trousers who has to pop pills to bring a smile to his face. His wife, the uptight, severe looking mother with her smile sucking tight bun, who is also dressed in grey but offset by red lipstick and accessories. She likes to exercise in a black bikini with cling film wrapped around her. Their son is dressed in a white shirt and grey trousers and regularly does things that bored teenagers do, like ram his bicycle into the neighbours’ wall, until the girl next door takes his fancy. Their neighbours are more vivacious. The mother is a faux-glamorous 1950’s styled housewife who smokes like a trooper and feeds her family crisps and beer. The father, an average guy, likes to smoke, drink beer and watch TV. Their son who looks too old to still be at home wears a track suit smokes, drinks beer and watches TV. Whilst their daughter in her grey school uniform tries to fit into her own family, but keeps failing.

An argument early on over a new flowerbed that one family plants into their and their neighbour’s lawn carries the narrative from near start to end. There are some sequences of dance mainly contemporary and contact in nature, but on the whole this is more visual theatre than dance. I enjoyed watching it but not half as much as my fellow audience members who seemed near hysterical with laughter through most of the piece. There were some real comedy moments like when the faux-glamorous housewife steals the uptight housewife’s handbag in the grocery store and she doesn’t notice, or when the bored husband cuts his lawn with a pair of nail clippers. Ultimately the show ends on a tragic note, not unlike Romeo and Juliet, but slightly different nevertheless.

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