YOU HAVE to be pretty fond of the beat of a drum not to worry a bit about Stomp. The grungy clowning troupe, originally formed in Brighton, has won international fame for clobbering metal dustbins with all their might. That may satisfy some tribal urge in us all, but can we really sit through an hour and 40 minutes of it? The fact that we can is testament not just to the percussive virtuosity of these tapdancers-run-wild, but to their wit and inventiveness.
For the show is as much about pins dropping as bin-lids clanging. At the opening, a solitary performer sweeps up with a broom in a corrugated- iron back alley lined with car parts, oil drums and obligatory trash cans. The gentle swish of the bristles, alternating with a wooden tap as he knocks the dust off the brush, builds into a rhythm, softly punctuated by his sighs and belches.
One by one the rest of the cast join in, similarly dressed in labourers' clothes. The taps and swishes come together and grow louder, then the sweepers stop to mop their brows, and their collective sigh becomes a percussive note. This is comedy, but it's music too - and it's entrancing.
Not that Stomp is all subtlety. The broomsticks become jousting tools, cracking against each other as the company performs a breathtaking display of testosterone-fuelled derring-do. Tapping and bashing away, they are a butched-up Riverdance. But the joy of the show lies in its changes of mood, as the blokeish stomping of one routine melts into the wit and delicacy of matchbox castanets in the next. One "sketch", of newspaper-rustling and phlegmy throat-rattling, even has a wordless punchline.
The ensemble cast, led by co-director Luke Cresswell, defies categorisation. The six men and two women (there are actually 12 people in Stomp, but you only ever see eight on a given night) are mime-artists who look like they never left Brighton Pier. David Olrod, as the one the others gang up on, is a fully fledged clown. But they are also accomplished dancers, death-defying acrobats, musicians pulling notes out of nowhere and, ultimately, frenzied drummers who can't see a bit of metal without bashing it.
Eventually they get to that Nurofen moment we have been waiting for. The hub-caps, road signs and bits of pipe on the scaffolding become one vast organ to be played as the company abseils down the set. The junkyard notes soar up into the dome of the Roundhouse, and somehow they fall just short of cacophony.
It's exhilarating and uncannily orchestral. But it's primitive too, which, of course, was the point all along. Terrific.
Stomp is at the Roundhouse, London NW1 (0171-420 0171) until 27 December, and on tour from 26 January to 4 April
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