ICE SPECTACULAR Carmen on Ice Fairfield Hall, Croydon

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The Independent Culture
You know what Bizet's trouble was? No forward planning. He upped and died without completing the ice-dance music for Carmen. No matter. Producer Vee Deplidge and composer Steve Millington have at last given us what we've all been missing: the all-skating version of the world's favourite Sevillian castanet drama.

With its emphasis on outstretched arms and corkscrew spins, ice-dancing is perhaps not the finest mode for narrative. Would, for example, Beowulf be improved by the insertion of a double axel and a triple toe-loop? I think not. Velocity is what it's about. Flashing blades zipping round rinks building up speed, leaping aloft for added dazzlement. Transpose that on to a 40-foot square stage. It's like trying to throw the javelin in your bedroom.

Never mind the sport, what of the singing? There is no singing. The music is often more Gipsy Kings than Bizet. Elsewhere, vast tracts of the composer's L'Arlesienne are pressed into service plus the rest of his Greatest Hits. How we managed without the duet from The Pearl Fishers I'll never know. The prison scene (the finest since The Fields of Ambrosia) featuring Don Jose skating on a stationary stool, a dramatic activity closely related to juggling on the radio, uses new music which sounds as if it came from the Shirley Bassey discard pile. Millington also takes the themes of the thrillingly constructed third act and gives them what Bizet forgot: orchestrations by the Smurfs.

I only had eyes for the identical twin sisters skating in stereo (I swear) and leather-trousered Vassiliy Eremenko is a splendidly showy Dancairo, but most of the time, despite estimable rock star haircuts circa 1970, the formidable Russian Ice Stars look more than a little hemmed in. Toreador Escamillo sports a nice reversible red and silver cloak (think anorak sans sleeves) and wears more flashy polyester than anyone else. He's a tallboy. No. That should be two words, not one. A tallboy is a piece of furniture, rather wooden... mind you... As for Micaela, we know she's a nice girl because she wears a petticoat and displays no cleavage, in contrast to Carmen, a dead ringer for Dorien from Birds of a Feather, whose costume brings new meaning to the term fringe theatre. She scores points for effort but her duets with her men had all the sexual chemistry of Rod Hull and Emu.

The backcloth has a very "artistic" painting of a block of flats, the mountainscape rekindled memories of Seventies airbrush expert Roger Dean, and the flame-effect fire in Act 3 would grace any Rumbelows showroom, but these were as nothing compared to the choreographer abandoning all dignity to restore the little-known Irish step-dancing scene. Riverdance is built on an almost malevolent precision and focus worthy of Tonya Harding, but trying to fake it with an inverted steam iron on your foot is a fate I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Never have I seen a cast look so miserable as during the reprise of this shameless exercise in crowd-pleasing. Technical merit? Yes. Artistic impression? No.

To 4 Jan (0181-688 9291) then touring to 21 June

David Benedict