Those who have been to see Jump will be familiar with the formula. Some very clever slapstick, a small amount of enforced audience participation, and some excellent acrobatics. Whereas in Jump the acrobatics involved martial arts, in Break Out it involved some pretty impressive breakdancing.
With the Taekwondo in Jump, the amazing displays flowed naturally from the plot: you have some burglars in the house, so obviously you try to rough them up a bit, and they try to rough you up in return. But how do you introduce breakdancing into a prison escape plot? With difficulty. Something about an ancient text which lands in the prison and somehow gives the prisoners magical breakdancing powers. If that sounds like something out of Viz I guess that’s not a bad pedigree, but in general the humour in Break Out is a lot less adult.
There are undoubtedly some hilarious moments. The pre-recorded opening and closing title sequences had some great ideas — everyone enjoyed the breakdancing Roman gladiators and the Buddhist MC Monk. Back to the show itself, the escape through the underground tunnel was very well thought-out and the scene where the escapees had to dodge the roving prison searchlights required masterful timing and balletic coordination. What followed was rather too much chasing around and not enough music and dancing. The scene in the hospital, for example, could have easily had a couple of minutes trimmed from it, and we didn’t need the hungry nuns episode. But these are minor quibbles in the context of a good evening’s family entertainment.
The dancers, according to the programme notes, are all b-boys with a distinguished record. They have been trained hard to cross over as comic actors. And in this they are highly successful: the characters were well delineated, and the exaggerated facial expressions, which in the publicity stills look faintly ridiculous, are just right on stage. But it’s a shame that they were not allowed to show off a little more of their heritage. Maybe the producers were concerned that too much dancing — particularly when it involves people standing around watching a virtuoso soloist performing his athletic gyrations, rather than having characters interacting with each other — breaks up the plot too much. But in the end, what I would have preferred is less of the slapstick plot and more of the breakdancing.
The brief run at the Peacock is the show’s premiere. I heard talk that the show will be going to the Edinburgh Festival this year. Judging by the enthusiasm of the London audience, it should be a great success.