The thronging young seemed interested. Around me on Tuesday night at the Linbury Theatre, the tots watched the action of The Thief of Baghdad, the new Christmas show from Will Tuckett and his collaborators, and gave no evidence of wanting to escape.
Three children enter an abandoned theatre in a war-torn city. The eldest girl is a stalwart figure and might well pass for her own mother; her sister is resistibly vivacious; their companion is a sullen youth. To them, a stage-door keeper, all-wise, bonhomous, and displaying all the deadlier attributes of such qualities.
Suddenly we are in Olde Baghdad, and an inane narrative about a Princess, a wicked King of the Mountains, forced marriage, a monkey, a genii, and being “pure in heart”, is tediously unwound for us in clunky dialogue, laboured movement, while unintriguing tricks are played with light – albeit there is one spiffy moment involving a magic carpet to end Act 1.
For adult eyes – these adult eyes – it looked distinctly second-rate, but as entertainment for pre-teen children it has, I suppose, enough energy to cover the leaden performances, the whiff of political correctness (“What’s the use of being rich when everyone else is poor?”) and the unappealing accompaniment (from Paul Englishby for a chamber ensemble) and the none-too-compelling scene-setting by Jon Bausor. There is, however, a very good reason for grown-ups to see the show, and it is one I have noted before with several gruesome dance-events. Matthew Hart appears as the villain. Hart is an extraordinary, a brilliant and commanding dance-actor, who brings life, fascination to every role he plays: he could not be dull on stage even if he took lessons from some of his colleagues in this rout. As the King of the Mountains (The Demon King as natty-suited gigolo) he brings dramatic excitement, stunningly exact dancing, and a contagious verve to a papery role. Cheers for him. (And the evening’s two stars are for him).
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