From its humble origins in street theatre, Stomp has gone on to become a global phenomenon that has spawned five companies and includes an off-Broadway production now in its ninth year, not to mention other spin-offs including an IMAX feature.
Somehow, though, London has mostly missed out, apart from limited runs at speciality dance theatres like Sadler's Wells (in both its old and new incarnations) and seasons at the Royal Festival Hall and Camden's Roundhouse. The show's only now finally getting its first commercial West End run, over a decade after it was first previewed in the capital in 1991 ahead of an Edinburgh Fringe triumph that year.
Meanwhile, however, London has seen a host of dance-based imitators that have used Stomp's plotless, industrial-setting structure to showcase their own wordless specialities, from the Australian Tap Dogs to the South African Gumboots and Scandinavian-originated breakdancing show Bounce. Even Matthew Bourne's choreography for the current NT production of My Fair Lady has a direct steal from Stomp to confirm its total absorption into our cultural landscape.
So how, after all this, does the original hold up? The good news is: it's still an original. A constantly inventive spectacle of sound making, it provides an aural assault on the senses even as it is offers the visually amusing and surprising sight of how those sounds are being made. The unique musicality and movement of Stomp lies in the range of everyday objects it employs to achieve its effects. This is a show that finds sound in manipulating everything from broomsticks to matchboxes, toilet plungers to plastic carrier bags, cigarette lighters to water cooler containers.
Out of these things, it creates a hypnotic, rhythmic ballet; and, though you might think that a little of this might go a long way, they actually go a long way with very little. In the process, it makes you alive to the fact that we're surrounded by intriguing sound all the time, but mostly fail to listen: we're usually too wrapped up in dealing with what's going on in our minds to appreciate what's coming to us for free through our ears.
So it's a revelatory piece as well as a frequently astounding one. The high-energy eight-strong company (six guys, two girls) draws from a troupe of 12 performers - the performance is too demanding for anyone to do eight times a week. On the press night, proceedings were led by an extraordinary alumnus of the off-Broadway company, Seth Ullian, with charisma to spare.
Note: The following review dates from January 2002 and an earlier tour of this production.
Clumping around in heavy boots, while making music out of paper bags and bin lids may appear a rather strange pastime but, since 1991, Stomp - a group of dancers and percussionists formed by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, has literally stomped its mark on the performing world.
With their ingenious infusion of rhythm, mime-style comedy, movement, and percussion, their numerous TV appearances on shows including the 1996 Academy Awards and well received international tours have propelled them to the forefront of street influenced performance.
What's interesting about this show is the fact that anyone can have a go. Whether it's drumming on your dustbin lid, tapping your feet or creating rhythmic patterns with a domestic broom, Stomp is sure to inspire you, if even momentarily. The show's creative heart is spawned from the unspoken poetry of everyday life and the theory that beauty is often found in the most ordinary things: simplistic household objects are magicked into the surreal.
Against the backdrop of an urban set littered with battered bin lids and shiny garbage cans, the opening brooms routine is amongst the best and is almost like a modern take on that classic chimney scene from Disney's Mary Poppins. The rustle of newspapers and brisk crunch of an apple are executed with the slick precision of a well-oiled engine.
Anything and everything is put to use here. Clicking zippo lighters and the mysterious, almost voodoo-like tones of the rubber hoses are two of the most novel, although I personally prefer the more flamboyant drumming routines and the lightning-quick pole dance with its tribal influences.
Some of the show's comic and participative elements are less effective. A performer clapping demonstratively reduces the audience to juvenile follow-the-leader actions, whilst other interplay is subtly ironic. The sequence where the performers walk on oversized oil drum stilts is also a touch deflating.
Stomp culminates with a firecracker finale as the performers swirl and clash their bin lid shields like new age warriors. This is a slice of post-modern pop culture for the 21st century. A rhapsody of litterbins and broomsticks that teaches us all a lesson in the principles of harmony and rhythm. It's highly addictive!