Contact

By Judith Mackrell

Susan Stroman's Contact comes to London with a huge reputation, including a Tony award for best musical.

On the London stage, however, the show looks a disappointing hybrid. Not only does it lack the songs and the story line to make it a real musical, it also lacks the radical imagination to make it satisfying dance theatre. The production started out as a one act dance play (co-created with writer John Weidman), and was expanded into an evening of three separate parts.

There is intentionally no plot or score to link its sections, only a theme of human contact that moves into darker territory as the evening progresses. The performers get to spill out more lines of dialogue as the complexity of their situation grows, though all three sections are danced flat out.

In the opening piece Stroman aims for pure dumb happiness as she brings to life the lovers in Fragonard's painting, The Swing. The young woman is 18th century sister to Sex and the City Samantha, who enjoys wanton contact with her suitor and his manservant. Her frolics add up to no more than comic froth, and the faux baroque choreography could have looked thin. However, Stroman puts the lovers' swing to such ingeniously raunchy use it is hard not to be beguiled.

The couple in the second piece have, by contrast, lost all shimmer of romance. He is an ugly mobster; she is the cowed, ditzy wife who survives his bullying by fantasising herself into a whirlwind danced romance.

Sarah Wildor as the wife does more than justice to Stroman's rather derivative comedy ballet, and she is also startlingly good at a broad Queens accent. What makes her by far the best thing in the evening is her ability to layer and complicate her role. Wildor's anarchic humour and visceral body language pitch this character way beyond its obvious limits into surreal comedy, and ultimately the bleakest misery.

In the final piece a suicidal celebrity (Michael Praed) seeks consolation in a dance bar where he meets The Girl in the Yellow Dress (Leigh Zimmerman). She is the hottest dancer on the floor and he thinks he'll be saved by partnering her, until Stroman whisks the plot onto a different course.

The final twist is slick but is a device used in all three sections; its repetition signals how weak Stroman's material essentially is. Entertaining though her stories are, their scenarios are deadly simple; she relies on narrative gags, rather than human detail to give them depth. For a show that is all about the pains and pleasures of human communication, Contact fails disappointingly to get under its characters' skins.

· Until February 22 Box office: 0870 8901110


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