Unfortunately, the energy and talent weren’t enough to mask the lack of a cohesive narrative thread.
Billed as an ‘extraordinary dance performance’, Message in a Bottle the story is told through Jumps, turns and somersaults. But while the energy of the performers is electric and impressive, the narrative thread is unclear, making the production difficult to follow and understand. At times, the themes of isolation, separation, and family are evidently trying to get across, but the emotional beats are clouded by a palpable sense of confusion about what exactly is going on.
Directed by Kate Price, the story follows a family that is separated after being displaced from their nondescript small town. However, the family dynamic is somewhat confusing, and this uncertainty only deepens as the plot progresses. The message seems to be one of connection, and there are clear attempts at social commentary, however the lack of coherent context means this fails. Unfortunately, the narration leaves the audience with many unanswered questions, as the story only unfolds using the lyrics of the songs from Police they play along. The widely popular songs seem to be an attempt to connect the audience to the plot, a device I didn’t find particularly effective as there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why this band was chosen.
The style is reminiscent of the physical theater of a frenetic assembly, energetic and highly visually appealing, and each artist on ‘ZooNation: The Kate Price Company’ is clearly extremely talented in their movement. They are expressive and, at times, fascinating, but they face the main problem of effective storytelling in non-verbal production, a problem they do not overcome. Message in a Bottle It stumbles because the narrative thread falls off so soon – I felt like I was playing catch up with the plot at every major story moment.
The production design was sometimes too simple, and at others, I found it too convoluted. The use of projections felt strange, given the authenticity created by the physical theatre. The projections used sometimes felt cartoonish and out of place, which took away from the artists. I would have preferred lighting techniques used throughout as there were several instances where this was exploited effectively, namely the ‘Roxanne’ sequence.
The wardrobe was quite effective and complemented the movement in a visually appealing way. The use of color was also key in helping establish where the characters were in the story. The characters themselves were established somewhat effectively, however it was unclear if they were friends or siblings. Once again, the lack of context made it difficult to connect to their respective stories.
So, when the curtains closed, I was blown away by the great talent and energy of the performers, but had many questions about what exactly I had just seen. The narrative thread got tangled and lost at too many points for this to be the effective and emotional social commentary it wanted to be.
Message in a Bottle will play at the Mayflower Theater until May 13, 2023. You can find information and tickets here.