I saw this show back in 2014, and having left delighted the first time, as always I was craving more of the hybrid experience that Kate Prince delivers so well. ZooNation work to bring hip-hop and theatre together to audiences who may not have regular brushes with art of this kind.
Now you know you're at a ZooNation show when, "Please turn of your mobile phones" is followed by, "This is not just theatre, this is HIP-HOP THEATRE so make as much noise as you can!"
To provide a brief outline...Ernest (Tommy Franzen) a recently graduated Psychotherapist arrives at the Institute of Extremely Normal Behaviour only to be presented with a casebook of patients that consists of the caricatures we all know and love, Tweedledum & Tweedledee, the White Rabbit, Alice, the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and the whacking fantastic Queen of Hearts.
As each character is introduced, there are some initial vignettes, think Lock-Stock but instead of freeze-frames, you get a little bit of choreography and some funky music.
I could see the Dad next to me perk up out of his seat, to realise that he was not in fact at the yearly pantomime that his wife Lynne had booked without talking to him first. He might actually get some enjoyment of his own out of this. I think said 'Dad' and I (I would like to call him Gary) Gary and I most certainly shared the same sense of humour for we laughed at the same moments throughout. There's plenty for the parents and older members to enjoy. This show has got brains.
For want of a better analogy and not to give too much away, if this were a Netflix series, you can expect the set up in episode one, with an in-depth character exploration in each episode to follow. The final episode I would say is the entire second half, but this you can see for yourself (when you book tickets, which I demand that you should.)
I could spot some definite adaptations from the first run of this show at the Royal Opera House back in December 2014. I believe there are some new songs, and some soulful and catchy numbers reminiscent of the ditties I can still remember from previous ZooNation production 'Some like it Hip-Hop' (Simeooon, Simeooon) which must be down to musical genius' DJ Walde and Cohen.
I also noted some differences in the presentation of the Mad Hatter's character which is brilliantly played by Turbo again whom you may remember from Got to Dance on Sky a few years ago. The March Hare also had some notable changes.
The March Hare was definitely a new highlight for me this time. Not only was the dancer himself impressive, but the House number within his song was excellent, and actually the House dance numbers throughout were probably my favourite things about this show.
You can expect strong whacking and female empowerment embodied by the Queen, a bi-polar Cheshire Cat who brings some Ska vibes to the the stage, comical b-boy riffing from the Tweedles, and a pleasing emotive piece from Alice with a heart thumping ending to her choreographed piece.
The 2014 performance had the White Rabbit's story ingrained in me. Linking his lateness to OCD behaviours is incredibly relatable and a smart move in the writing. The joining up of the dots as to why the characters are the way they are is equally as impressive as the choreography.
Within White Rabbit's sequence there is a fantastic mirroring section and I would have loved to have taken a few extra sips of this. It was over too quickly and I really think this would have been an 'etch' moment if it had continued for longer. A little showstopper.
The characterisation was strong by cast members, particularly by Turbo as Mad Hatter who I feel got a more just exploration this time.
Now not wanting to get creepy, I never fangirl much, but Tommy Franzen qualifies for my imaginary wall of heroes. There are no words to describe what a great performer and dancer he is, but I can safely say I rarely blinked during his dance sections as he really is that good.
During this particular show there was a slightly longer interval than I anticipated which I feel may have let the energy dip slightly among the audience hype.
Turbo did a great job at hyping audience members during the second half, getting them to join in the loud applause and whooping usually witnessed at a ZooNation show.
There is a good reason as to why the break is longer than a standard tenwhich you will understand, but perhaps some music to keep the energy would be good, and if you do read this, remember to give it some OOF in the audience as it really does fuel the dancers and cast and you'll get a great show out of it.
That being said, it didn't stop there being a huge reaction at the end of the show in the vast Roundhouse setting which makes for a magical experience.
See video here: https://twitter.com/JenDubble/status/815251423705395201
If you're thinking about seeing this show, my Nigella description would be: this is what you get if you put a Panto through a mixer, throw in a Psychology text book, a think-tank, some MTV award show glamour and a large dusting of Uptown Records.
There really is something for everyone and you will have a grin of glee as you exit the building amongst the newly formed B-boy crew of 13 year- olds outside Chalk Farm station.
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