Message in a Bottle: musical narrative of displacement

This article was commissioned by The Upcoming, where it appeared for the first time.
Photo credit: Johan Persson
Kate Prince set a high bar for herself: bringing together a current and quite confrontational topic with eclectic evergreen music from Sting. She embraced the challenge, in tandem with ZooNation, and made a vibrant success of it. The songs are infused with new life and colour. The visuals speak of humanity, the modern wound of displacement and the sweet, happy moments of lives reborn.

The story follows three young siblings, who joyously cohabit with their community in an unidentified Arabic country. Right after the wedding of one of them, the civil war erupts. With the death of her husband and the disappearance of her daughter-in-law, the mother of three decides to embark on a perilous journey with Leto, Mati and Tana in search of that “invisible sun” where life can blossom again, away from bombs and smugglers. What awaits them, though, is the precarious destiny of refugees.

The production aspires to hope while waking up the public to the disturbing and dehumanising conditions today’s crisis’ migrants in the current crisis are subject to.

There is no talking and no script, but the songs blend into one another, threading through the narrative. However, the pieces of the plot do not perfectly match up towards the end. Some parts are foggy and not clearly subsequential. Apart from this “little black spot on the sun” – as Sting would sing – the rest of the drama is clear, composed of events that are sadly all too common to the many people seeking asylum.

The physicality given to the melody is wonderful. Heavily influenced by hip-hop, this contemporary dance features stunning breaking, making the head spin – quite literally for the performers and metaphorically for the audience. The rhythmic Arabic opening to Desert Rose is enticing. It then moves onto some heart-melting hits – Fields of Gold, Fragile, Every Breath You Take – that assume a different flavour on this backdrop. The bodies on stage merge as the dancers position themselves in fluid perimeters. Grief and violence are told without aggressiveness, but with a sense of powerlessness instead.

When the pace seems to ineffectively slow down, the curtains of the first act fall on the namesake song. Message in a Bottle starts quite flat and with very few figures on stage, to evolve into a rocking piece. The second act works a lot on differentiating the sequences, according to the destinies of the two brothers and the sister. It’s in the brightness and freedom of the new communities where the siblings separately land to overcome their previous struggles and find fulfilment. A remarkable game of shadows and projections is a clever element that’s added at this point. Shape of My Heart is surprising – this is the song out of all the others that receives a graceful and very tender cover, in a seamless pas de deux resemblance.

ZooNation delivers a performance that resonates in the heart and in the ears. A vigorous production that shakes and moves to tell a tale of today’s humanity.

- Read the article on The Upcoming -

Dates: 6 February - 21 March 2020
Venue: Peacock Theatre