For some reason, the unique physical theatre show Stomp is not up there on the list of West end shows that people seem to rave about. Les Mis? Breathtaking! Lion King? A spectacle of colour! Warhorse? Amazing!
But where is the praise for the little production with the BIG noise?
Created in 1991 by a one Luke Cresswell (and friend Steve McNicholas) Stomp took its inspiration from a number of sources. Both men were part of a symbiosis between a band, catchily entitled "Pookiesnackenburger", and street theatre group Cliff Hanger, both of which were beginning to experiment with using everyday objects as percussive instruments in their live shows. After a stint of running shows at the Edinburgh Festival, Cresswell was commissioned to create a Heineken beer advert which featured beer-thirsty workers tapping energetic beats out on bins and milk bottles as result of the regenerative powers of a can of Heineken. The ad had the tag line "Heineken refreshes the parts where other beers haven't bin". See the original ad here.
Anyone who has seen both the show and the original advert can almost see the moment Cresswell must have sat back, watched the final advert clip, and had a light bulb go off in his head.
The ad was engaging, unexpected, incredibly fast paced, and above all, massively watchable - a whole host of qualities that the show would later turn out to be.
Anyone not in the know normally says "oh yes, the thing where they play with the bins?" And yes, much like the original advert, Stomp does featured bins being hit - but honestly, to wrap it up as simply "some men hitting bins" just does not do it justice. Yeah, alright, they hit bins. And yeah, they hit bins to make toe-tappingly tantalising percussion music - and music is exactly what it is - but they do NOT stop at bins.
Pretty much any useful object you might find in your utility room features - matches, lighters, brooms, paint tins, pieces of piping, newspapers, plastic bags, (even, literally, the kitchen sink!) are used in this charmingly unique show to create the most pleasing visual and aural cacophony.
On top of the sheer musical finesse of the 8 cast members (it's a small production) each one definitely brings a sense of their own personality to the table which brings a delightful extra level to the show - there's one that always gets the "dud" sounding object, there's the energetic, slightly seemingly unhinged one that starts to do backflips half way through, and there's also the 'silly' character who takes it too far in most scenes, much to the glee of the audience. And all this, with absolutely no speech - it's all just inherent in the little visual quips and the way each "character" moves, and plays.
The show runs at 100 minutes, with no interval - after seeing it my self and feeling cheated at my chance to have a nice interval glass of wine and a chat about the first half - I realised that actually, it makes perfect sense. The show runs at a terrific pace and engages you instantly, building from a quiet number with sand and brooms to orchestral levels of noise with the performers hoisted in the ceiling playing industrial-sized oil barrels and stop signs. A pause for an interval would damage the immediacy of the performance and any longer than 100 minutes would potentially push the performance into the "too long" category. The only real downside I can see from the lack of an interval is it might prove difficult if you plan to take small toilet-stop-needy children.
Other than that, Stomp is all of the previous praise for other shows – breath taking, a spectacle, and amazing. For a show that is like no other, and is as equally engaging and accessible for the young as it is for the old, it's an absolute must-see.
Throw in the small but charming Ambassadors Theatre and really, this makes for a show that cannot be missed. The fact the show has been running steadily for 23 years, with countless copycat shows appearing, but never coming close, gives testament to how popular this little unsung gem really is.
Tickets are available at www.stomplondon.com/get-tickets and can be purchased for relatively cheap compared to other current West End shows, especially if you are comfortable buying through a last minute agent rather than direct. There are two showings every day of the week except for Friday.