Originally published on London Box Office
I remember being 5 or 6 years old and dancing round the living room to a VHS tape of Michael Flatley’s ‘Riverdance’. Of course at the time I thought I was as good as the man himself, but even then the poise and precision of the dancers, the beautiful Gaelic music and the almost ethereal costumes always held a magical quality for me. So when I entered the London Palladium to watch Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, all of those memories came flooding back. Now having done the maths I wasn’t expecting the man himself to perform as the male lead – at 56 that might be a bit too much to ask. But even without its front man, I had high expectations for “The World’s Greatest Dance Show.” What I experienced was definitely a trip down memory lane, but seen through the eyes of an older, more cynical Irish dance fan. The flaws in this production were all the things you don’t see as a child because you’re so wrapped up in the spectacle.
Now don’t get me wrong, for the first half I completely and utterly regressed to childhood. As soon as the music started you could hear the audience getting excited and that excitement only built when the music started playing. I was disappointed that the music wasn’t live, that really took something away from the performance, especially when the gymnast/sprite/elf character eventually appeared and mimed playing the tin whistle out of time. I say eventually, there was a 10 minute sound and light show with special effects before any performer even appeared on the stage. You could feel that the audience was starting to get restless – this was after all dance performance not a cinema. However, the child in me decided to overlook these initial setbacks and enjoy the dancing that followed.
The choreography in this show is pretty special, thanks to the direction of Marie Duffy Pask. All the performers were precise, focussed and completely in sync with each other; it’s quite easy to hear if someone is out of time and no sound was out of place. The women were dressed beautifully and exuded elegance as they moved around the stage, whilst the men by comparison were strong, athletic and very energetic. If only each and every dancer didn’t have the same Stepford Wife smile plastered to their face, it would have been a joy to watch; instead it was like watching identical Barbie and Ken dolls from the waist up. Looking back, I imagine the shows I watched as a child were exactly the same, but of course through an innocent little boy’s eyes I didn’t notice that. Damn getting older and more cynical.
By the second half my childhood state of glee had worn off. I had noticed the flaws in this show and there were quite a few. The lack of any storyline apart from ‘robots try and steal a child’s flute to control the world’ was all too apparent. The background that was projected onto the set at times was fine, at other times was like watching a 1980s episode of ‘My Little Pony’. The evil dancers were dressed as a tribute to the Borg from Star Trek and it looked dated. The costumes themselves were obviously heavy because it really impaired their dancing capability and the routines seemed to be much simpler by comparison to try and mask this. The interludes to the dancing were taken up by an Irish female singer, who was the understudy to the usual headliner Nadine Coyle (of Girls Aloud fame) and who was nothing special. The other interlude was two violinists who mimed playing beautiful Gaelic influence music on the violins. The cracks in this otherwise magical world of my childhood were starting to show. But the audience were enjoying every second of the show – mainly the females I have to say. I imagine this was because of James Keegan, the male lead. Keegan oozed charisma and stage presence to the point that he just had to appear on stage and the crowd would scream like teenage girls. I have to say though he had the ability to back it up and his dancing was completely mesmorising to watch – definitely the highlight of the show.
Of course no show would be complete without a brief appearance at the end of the show from the creator himself; despite looking a bit like a Ken doll, Flatley hasn’t lost any of his trademark arrogance. Obviously not quite as limber as in his prime, he nevertheless still had the skills to back up his world renowned status. Despite going on about 10 minutes longer than I would have liked, it was pretty special to see this renowned performer doing what he did best all those years ago. Overall I came out of the show in a state of nostalgia, remembering how much I loved that show when I first saw it on video over 18 years ago. Unfortunately, I am 18 years more cynical and so noticed a number of flaws and outdated ideas in this otherwise brilliantly choreographed production.