Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Shadows on the Stage: Tap Dogs at the Peacock

Tap Dogs
The Peacock, London • 23 October to 10 November
dir Dein Perry; with Anthony Russo, Nathaniel Hancock, Richard Miller, Chaise Rossiello, Justin Myles, Reid Perry

Sadler's Wells brings the Australian sensation back to London for a few weeks, and it's worth catching them if you have the chance. Tap Dogs first premiered in Sydney in 1995 and was immortalised in the film Bootmen in 2000. It's a raw, loud display of masculinity and physicality in an industrial setting as six men launch into a series of elaborate tap-dancing routines. These dancers are powerful and skilled as they work together and interact with a set that's constantly shifting like a building site.

There are elements of the staging that feel somewhat overwrought and perhaps underused, such as when the stage is raised in segments (above). But it's the earthier numbers that impress the most, especially when combined, for example, with some jaw-dropping basketball dribbling skills. There's also some nice humour injected into the performance, as the guys play various roles: the beardy leader, the young kid, the disco diva, the cheeky chap, and so on. And this comes to life most notably in a sequence involving a considerable amount of splashing water.

Some of the set changes feel a bit laboured, but the synchronised, fast-tapping numbers are thoroughly enjoyable. And while the story is a little unclear, there are high points all the way through (including a brief bit in which one guy dances on the ceiling), most notably in the terrific character moments. It's very loud, with lots of stomping, clanging and drumming, plus added sparks and flashing lights and two energetic women (somewhat unnecessarily) on drums. It's also a brisk 80 minutes without an interval, culminating in an encore performed on steel girders. Yes, for adept dancers with seriously happy feet, these guys seem intent on reminding us just how manly they are.

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