God's Garden, Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The family in God's Garden, Arthur Pita's retelling of the story of the prodigal son, celebrate the prodigal's return, catching an (invisible) pig and preparing a feast. The scene freezes. The prodigal's forgotten bride appears, staring at him and picking up a knife from the table. "The Portuguese for 'knife'," she tells the audience, "is 'faca'." It sounds much ruder in an English sentence.

Pita's show is strongest when it interrupts itself. His characters launch into big numbers, then undercut the whole scene with a sigh or a shrug. The charismatic cast make the most of such moments. The numbers themselves tend to drag, their choreographer running out of invention.

God's Garden moves the story to Madeira. Jean-Marc Puissant's fine set divides the stage on a diagonal. One side is the family home, with patterned tiles and lush vegetation. The other side is bare: a dancing space. The show starts with a wedding, broken off when a phone call brings news of the groom's departure. Pita casts Nuno Silva as the prodigal and the bride's mother: he ends up lamenting his own absence. It is an odd choice. Silva's mother-in-law is too camp to be naturalistic.

Lorena Randi stands out as the prodigal's pregnant sister, gasping out to distract the family whenever her grandmother suggests paying off the bride. Pita gives her an overlong dance around an electric fan, worth it for the way Randi pulls herself together at the end.

Diana Payne-Myers has a fine time as the grandmother, preening through a solo that includes the splits. José Manuel Figueira, who lost his sight as a teenager, plays the father with quiet assurance. He is touching in the grandmother's death scene, gently feeling her face and recognising her end.

As the son, Silva's life is a dull mime of clubbing, sex and drugs. He has a better time singing fado, the Portuguese song, with guitarist Phil King.

Valentina Golfieri makes the most of the bride. Her revenge dance is the best dance moment, as she abandons herself to the folk-inflected steps.

Sometimes Pita interrupts his own interruptions. The family plunge into the audience, singing and waving props. They are trying too hard. Pita wants his characters to be outrageous, but he needs to give them more material.

Brighton Dome (01273 709709) tonight