The first thing that hits you about The Flowerbed, by Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, is the scent of cut grass. Rodney Grant's set, adapted by Merle Hensel for The Pit, shows stylised box houses and a lawn, the scene of conflict between warring neighbours. The trees are shinily plastic, but the grass smells real.
The Flowerbed is loosely based on the Romeo and Juliet story. This company, based in Ireland, specialises in retelling old tales. Its Olivier-nominated Giselle moved the romantic ballet to rural Ireland. In both shows, the choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan updates with gaudy exaggeration and cartoon violence. His people are no more than the sum of their tics, but his images have theatrical bite.
It all starts with a suburban squabble. An obsessively neat family are appalled by their new neighbours, who strew the area with beer cans and cigarette butts before digging a flowerbed slap across the boundary between the two gardens. Carnage follows.
Characters are displayed in elaborate routines. After tending his beloved lawn with mower, shears and nail scissors, the neat father has sex with it. Recovering himself, he carefully pulls a blade of clipped grass from between his teeth. His wife wears rubber gloves, sprays air-freshener outdoors, and wraps herself in clingfilm to do her exercises. Michael M Dolan and Esther Balfe give their banal chores a manic glint of the extremes to come.
The new family is led by Vladislav Benito Soltys, cross-dressed to play the mother, with bright lipstick next to dark stubble. Putting on Marmite-coloured suntan lotion, she gets her son (Milos Galko) to rub it into her hairy limbs. They work up to a near-incestuous clinch, jumping primly apart when they see the neighbours watching.
The Flowerbed is stronger on caricature than feeling: the characters work best when preening, competitive, imitating each other or smiling vinegar greetings. It's hard to care about them, and the monstrous adults overshadow the sweet adolescents, Daphne Strothmann and, dressed as a boy, Rachel Poirier.
Philip Feeney's score is a soundtrack of rattles, hums and snatches of songs. Keegan-Dolan gives each character an extended dance; his steps have little impact. The lovers' duets are his usual lifts and clinches, and the fight scenes are repetitive, though the last battle does have slapstick energy, with people impaled on garden implements or strangled with hoses.
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