Millennium Dome: Dome's musical in mid-air is a real spectacular

MILLENNIUM Nice show, shame about the video as aerial ballet triumphs, only for Blackadder plan to prove not very cunning
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The Independent Online
WHATEVER THE aesthetic failings of the Dome, and the variable quality of its individual zones, something genuinely spectacular is happening there.

It is not the much hyped, specially made Blackadder film, which proved more laboured than hysterical and had to resort to deliberately controversy- courting moments such as casting Kate Moss as the Queen and remarking: "At last, a Queen who looks good naked."

Far more interesting was the Dome's own "Millennium Show". Spotlights flicker on a love story played out on trapezes a stomach-churning 145ft above our heads. Peter Gabriel's dramatic and haunting score reaches a crescendo as acrobats climb and plunge in an epic aerial ballet that proves its power in the rapt attention of such a massive crowd.

It has been overlooked that the Dome will soon have the most visited piece of theatre in the country. Up to 36,000 people a day can see its three performances (Blackadder in the Dome's Skyscape building will also become the most watched film in the UK, with 5,000 seats available every 45 minutes).

The problems of designing the thrice-daily performance for such a vast space saw off Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who fell out with the organisers over his wish to have 1,000 children in the show. The practical difficulties of housing and feeding them outweighed any artistic considerations for the New Millennium Experience Company and its creative head, Michael Grade.

But the new team, headed by rock show designer Mark Fisher and with Peter Gabriel in charge of the music, have proved more than worthy replacements. This is the one moment in a visit to the Dome where visitors come together for a shared experience. It needed to be a show that united the audience with a shared emotion and shared wonder. And it does.

The show, without any dialogue, tells a Romeo and Juliet-style story (at last, a nod to Shakespeare in the Dome) of a family in conflict. Skyboy, a boy of dreams, and Sophia, a girl of action, are driven apart before being reunited in a passionate "flying" love duet.

The spectacle in the centre of the arena includes flames bursting from above as performers attached to bungee ropes and stilts descend into the middle of the audience. The show fills the Dome's airspace using three lightweight aerial metal mobiles 60ft long by 16ft high. Underneath the mobiles, trapezes twist and performers spin in giant hamster wheels. An 80ft tower is encircled by dangerous-looking walkways from which abseilers jump.

It is stirring physical theatre, heightened by Peter Gabriel's soundtrack, which layers Asian, African, Australian and Middle Eastern elements against a largely British backdrop, mixing references from the brass of the Black Dyke Mills Band to Arabic laments.

I'm less sure that many of the audience will follow the narrative, with its slightly heavy handed symbolism (the tower becomes an oppressive symbol of industrialisation that gradually enslaves the Sky people). But the acrobatics, danger and harmony of trapeze and music count more than the narrative anyway. This is visual spectacle, and a perfect 28-minute interlude in the day's visit.

Talking of the Sky people, over in the Sky Television-sponsored Skyscape, the Blackadder film did not raise sufficient laughter in the packed screening I attended. The concept was a good one: time travelling Blackadder and Baldrick meet Robin Hood, Napoleon, Elizabeth I, even a dinosaur before King Rowan Atkinson and Queen Kate Moss arrive back at the Dome for Millennium Eve. But even committed Blackadder fans thought it was an unusually pedestrian episode. For such a potentially massive audience, it needed to be the best ever.