The Flowerbed @ Barbican Pit, London

cast list
Esther Balfe
Michael M Dolan
Milos Galko
Neil Paris
Rachel Poirer
Vladislav Benito Soltys
Daphne Strothmann

directed by
Michael Keegan Dolan
A word of advice. For those people who don’t relish the idea of being flecked with stage blood, saliva and bits of airborne soil – or bombarded with paper aeroplanes – the front row is probably best avoided in Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre’s latest show at the Barbican.

The world of Fabulous Beast is a unique one, colourful and crude, completely over the top yet not incapable of beauty and subtlety. A world that casually and gleefully blurs the boundaries between genres and methods of performance.

The company had a hit at the Barbican last year with their agreeably bonkers take on Giselle and will be back for BITE: 07 with a piece called The Bull. This year’s production, The Flowerbed, performed in the intimate Pit Theatre, is a revised production of a piece first staged at the Dublin Theatre Festival six years ago. Since then it has been completely re-choreographed by director Michael Keegan-Dolan, although the dramatic structure remains the same.

The Flowerbed can loosely be pigeonholed as an update of Romeo And Juliet, though this description doesn’t really do justice to this insanely inventive, brash and darkly comic production. The set features two houses, as you would expect, but these are a world away from fair Verona, relocated to some anonymous corner of suburbia. The first house is inhabited by a prim and upright couple and their young son; Mum is obsessed with household hygiene and dad has a relationship with his well-tended lawn that is, to say the least, unhealthy. Their orderly world is disrupted when a motley bunch of newcomers move in to the empty house next door, with their pretty young daughter in tow.

This new family live off beer and fags, they’re rude and noisy and messy. And, when their newly planted flowerbed infringes on their neighbours’ beloved lawn, inevitably all hell breaks loose.

If these sound like crude class stereotypes, that’s because they are. There’s more than a touch of Little Britain to the characterization (an impression enhanced by the mother of the new brood being played in drag, complete with hairy legs and prominent five o’clock shadow). Fabulous Beast has no qualms about dealing in extremes.

What elevates the piece is the energy and invention of the movement, furious and physical in the scenes of conflict between the two families, intimate and moving in the scenes between the two young lovers. There are skilful and entertaining performances from all involved and the music also plays a huge part in balancing the piece, with Philip Feeny’s eerie and insistent score adding a strange and sinister atmosphere to the proceedings.

This is a short work, running at just over 70 minutes, but it crams a lot in, threatening to overload the senses. Though the entire production is shot through with dark humour, the excess of the final scenes – including scenes of sex and unexpected violence – can be shocking, as liberal quantities of blood, spittle and flying clods of earth are brought into play for the tragic denouement.

In the end I found this approach somewhat distancing; I was able to admire the sheer, messy invention of Keegan-Dolan’s work, without ever connecting with it completely. Fans of Fabulous Beast however, of whom there are deservedly many, will not be disappointed.

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