fri 19/07/2024

Message in a Bottle, Peacock Theatre review - a hiphop singalong | reviews, news & interviews

Message in a Bottle, Peacock Theatre review - a hiphop singalong

Message in a Bottle, Peacock Theatre review - a hiphop singalong

A show that brings streetdance and the songs of Sting to bear on the refugee crisis is far too jolly

Walking on the Moon: Natasha Gooden is raised aloft in Kate Prince's 'Message in a Bottle' set to the songs of Stingphoto: Helen Maybanks

It’s hard enough to imagine hip hop set to the songs of Sting, but a hip hop show in which 27 songs by Sting laid end to end are made to tell a story about refugees? That’s the unlikely latest offering from the choreographer Kate Prince.

She has form in this area. Into the Hoods introduced hip hop to Sondheim and Some Like it Hip Hop filched a plot from Shakespeare. Both were bright, funky, funny shows and it was easy to see why the mashup worked. Now she has wrangled streetdance and a string of jukebox hits into what is without doubt the most desperate story of our age, and frankly, it’s a stretch.The members of ZooNation in 'Message in a Bottle'The plight of the world’s dispossessed is not a common topic for pop lyrics, not even Sting’s. There are three, maybe four songs among this selection which are obviously fit for purpose. What Kate Prince has done is to seize on any ambiguity in the other two dozen and turn them to new ends, tracing the divergent paths of three siblings forced to flee a war and endure a series of perils, not least the misery of searching a brothel for a trafficked wife to the strains of “Roxanne”. You have to give credit for ingeniousness. Apparently the singer gave Prince carte blanche to use his songs in whatever way she wished.

“Fields of Gold” becomes a memory of happier times, “Shape of My Heart” a duet between new lovers Tommy Franzen and Samuel Baxter. “Every Breath You Take” is set in a detainment centre with guards doing the watching. The versatility of Sting’s songs is impressive, but finding the appropriate mood within the buoyant physical vocabulary of hip hop seems to have been more of a challenge. Which is not to say that the stage isn’t almost permanently filled with the most exciting body pops and spins and power poses. This is life-enhancing stuff, nicely put together.

Like the blues, hip hop is an art form born out of poverty, and the potential for darker nuance is there. It was exploited to memorable effect only last year in Kenrick Sandy's Redd, a piece about depression. Kate Prince, however, seems set on making entertainment, and the more perilous twists in her refugee narrative are only narrowly saved from glibness by the furious commitment of her dancers, who pop and lock and spin as if their own lives were at stake. Ultimately you have to love these songs – some of them specially re-recorded by Sting, some given new vocals by Beverley Knight and others  – to love this show. But then, millions do, so Message in a Bottle may go on delivering for years. 

The plight of the world’s dispossessed is not a common topic of pop lyrics, not even Sting’s


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article


Just a point of correction: The choreographer's name is Kenrick Sandy not Sandrick Kendry

Thankyou Pauline for picking up my unintended Spoonerism. The name is so familiar to me that I didn't think to check it, as I clearly should have done.

I should add my apology to Mr Sandy himself.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters