Eileen Caiger Gray reviews Quest at Doncaster Cast (September 30th 2018)
In Time Gentlemen, Please and The Lock In, The Demon Barbers combined unique, creative genius with classy, breathtaking excellence, performing improbable, fiery fusions of music and dance styles, all meticulously choreographed and brilliantly executed. To wows of amazement and admiration, endless energy-fueled flows of acrobatics, drama, comedy, live folk-funk-hippy-hip-hop music and b-box interweave, overlap and merge with mind-blowing street-dance and break-dance spins that balance on every part of the body (well, almost), and, more surreally, with expert clog and Morris dancing.
Quest moves away from the previous bar-room/pool table setting into the world of virtual reality gaming, for this is a family entertainment show, broadly aimed at 7 to 12 year olds. With scope for CBeebies/panto-style interaction and song, a simple storyline runs through the two acts while stunning, inventive visual displays are projected onto a wall of screens, combining with moody lighting and the thrum of throaty electronics to take us into a virtual world. Partially visible, live musicians play guitar, drums and keyboard behind the screen as Kai, sister Gemstone and their pals energise themselves and get going on all manner of stunning dance and combat moves in a bid to outwit the gruff-voiced, evil Big Boss who’s bent on turning them all into creepy, subservient Forever Quest computer bugs.
As amazing as ever are the dazzling flash, click and tap of expert clogs, impossible head-spins that revolve seemingly forever, the aerial acrobatics, and scintillating sword-dance routines that miraculously leave no one headless. Somehow, though, the full-on, fervent flow of infinite variety that characterises earlier productions feels, this time, a bit restricted and restrained by the slow, linear burn of the story. A tighter, slicker, sharper pulling together wouldn’t come amiss. More striking contrast and variety, too, could create further massive impact: might we, perhaps, on occasions, burst right out of that dark, claustrophobic virtual world to emerge, for example, into a bright, sunny May morning world, where the fresh novelties of onstage fiddle, squeezebox and accordion fill the air and colourful Morris dancers offer hankies at dawn – with bells on – or maybe a bit of b-box on the side? Babies and bathwater spring to mind in their absence. It’s striking that when the musicians do finally emerge into the real, lime lit world to play front-stage right at the end alongside the dancers, an intensified intimacy and immediacy instantly set tots’ legs a-dancing – as did, too, the pre-show performance of the local Green Oak Morris group in the foyer, which unexpectedly sparked off a floss dance amongst the youngsters. This mix of tradition and heritage with the up-to-date is scintillating stuff!
It’s truly admirable that Breaking Tradition, UK’s leading folk and hip-hop dance company, like virtuoso outfits Opera North and Ensemble 360, is working hard to bring exciting, top quality live entertainment to younger audiences around the country while broadening their experience and enjoyment through workshops, too, and through having local groups perform on stage before Quest begins. Local dance team DN12 were phenomenal, their exhilarating choreography, fine talent and back-flipping acrobatics just as out-of-this-world breathtaking as that of the professional performers. Kids and adults alike can look forward to exciting times ahead from Breaking Tradition and The Demon Barbers.