Midnight Express, Coliseum, London – review

Narrative tension is entirely absent in this production – though Johan Christensen shows an intelligent presence as the hero

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.

www.eno.org

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

More on this topic

Suggestions below based on Theatre & Dance