Midnight Express, Coliseum, London – review

Given all the hoo-hah attendant upon Sergey Polunin and Igor Zelensky quitting Peter Schaufuss’s staging of Midnight Express at the Coliseum this week, a vital fact has been neglected. The piece is a gaping yawn of banalities, of musical indignities, meriting incarceration in a Turkish slammer, and justifying desertion by any dancer having a conscience about choreographic blatancies.

It is based on a narrative by Billy Hayes in which he recounted his experiences in a Turkish gaol for attempted drug-running, which was later turned into a film. I know neither book nor film – and feel no loss – so I took my own expert who had read and seen both, lest I might seem more than usually ignorant. I can but record that I was bored to sobs by the affair, admired the prison décor of tiered cells by Steven Scott, was roused to hopes for atomic revenge upon a production which cut-and-pasted Mozart (piano concerto, symphony, Requiem, Ave verum corpus) with the tedious baying of pop singers, and gazed in disbelief upon an event in which – for all its proposals of drama and narrative tension – absolutely nothing developed, and motives were worthy of Tom and Jerry.

A cast of male prisoners, of brutish guards, of what I took to be a gaggle of female midget prison-visitors, over-dressed in danced clichés, rampaged with the enervating determination of a party political broadcast. Given the glum narrative base – who, frankly, gives a damn about Hayes and his incarceration? – the evening was notably lacking in tension, save on the obvious terms of prisoners carrying on in boisterous fashion, climbing over the laddered setting, and pulling “pity-me” faces when the guards flexed their tedious psyches.

Very curious, though, are the sado-masochistic undertones of the action. For devotees of this indoor sport, there is thuggish discipline, beatings-up, bruised flesh as the plat du jour, truncheons, and a suggestion of fellatio. Such fun and games are no substitute for choreographic integrity, narrative cogency. The piece is gimcrack, and unredeemed by all-too-predictable performances. I admired Johan Christensen, thrown in at the deep end to play the thoroughly tiresome hero, and showing an intelligent presence as dance-actor.


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