Frantic Assembly have come a long way from their early roots. In the mid-90s, they were an exciting company combining club music, dance and a little acting.
Now after several changes of personnel, they produce exciting dramas that still have a strong dance influence. Much of the early excitement has been tempered but not lost as they have matured into one of the most exciting young companies around. This has been recognised by their inclusion in Soho Theatre's innovative Connections season.
Having performed in Abi Morgan's moving Tiny Dynamite to great acclaim at last year's Edinburgh Festival, the company has continued to draw on their Welsh ancestry with Heavenly, based on an idea by Gary Owen.
The play starts with a bang as two naked men hang from a sofa stuck on a wall of mattresses. This arrangement, designed by Dick Bird is mirrored on the stage. To music written by Nathaniel Reed, the three members of the company who have also directed and choreographed their performance move into the first of many clubby dance routines.
As the play develops it becomes clear why the three are in heaven and what life (or death) is like there. The drama is interspersed with tightly choreographed dance and physical acting under the control of performer Liam Steel who has transferred from another dance/theatre performance company, DV8.
The two remaining founder members, Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, work incredibly well together as two brothers who go for a drunken cliff walk with a childhood friend one New Year's Eve. The jokes are often exceptionally funny if sometimes in rather bad taste and the generally young audience lapped it up.
The writing is often thoughtful and ideas such as the list of things that should not be in heaven for it to be idyllic; the inability to make a final communication with the brothers' mum; and the bargains that one would strike with The Owner in order to be returned to life on earth are all insightful.
The revelatory moment when some inconsistencies are explained is touching and makes the play rather more than merely a good combination of modern dance and well-acted comedy. There is a real hard edge to the drama which owes much to Frantic Assembly's directorial consultant, Vicky Featherstone of Paines Plough. This is that relative rarity, young people's theatre, and Soho is to be congratulated for supporting such an exciting , innovative venture.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher