HEAVENLY
Soho Theatre + Writers' Centre, London W1
Opened 15 April, 2002

Frantic Assembly have become a brand. In the eight years of the company's existence, they have built up a reputation through persistent small- and middle-scale touring, a particular slant both to performance and overall presentation, and a generational bond with their audience, addressing material with a blend of groping profundity, honest sentiment and dry playfulness redolent of the culture from which they and their viewers spring. Young theatregoers perhaps most of whom would not even consider attaching that label to themselves will be likely to go to a Frantics show not because they've heard and like the sound of the content, themes or whatever, but because it's by the Frantics.

Heavenly, at the Soho Theatre + Writers' Centre, is very much a Frantic Assembly show. In fact, in many respects it's Frantics by numbers. Having taken a new tack in the past couple of years by working with outside writers such as Nicola McCartney and Abi Morgan, Heavenly retrenches into their more usual compass; core members Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett are joined by performer-choreographer Liam Steel for this three-hander.

Having made shows which constituted a coming to terms with the end both of the twentieth century and of their own twenties, the company now look ahead at mortality. The three characters find themselves in a space where both floor and walls are covered with mattresses, with a functional IKEA sofa sitting centre stage and another, Complicité-style, half way up the back wall. They arrive uncertainly, eventually clothing themselves in white bathrobes, and begin a discussion which we come to recognise is a list of things they won't miss about life.  They are, we realise, in some kind of unspecific hereafter as a result of falling off a cliff path.

The story, and their history (two brothers and the beloved of one of them), are pieced together over 75 minutes, interspersed with their trademark outbursts of energetic but un-revelatory dance. As the company name says, it's an assembly rather than a homogeneous whole; the programme thoughtfully provides both details of the soundtrack (which mixes original music with tracks by the likes of Goldfrapp and Röyksopp) and a kind of "set list" of the twenty or so brief segments which make up the piece.

Heavenly thinks a bit, feels a bit, cavorts a bit, gets a bit smart... covers all the bases in its way. Anyone wanting to know what Frantic Assembly do theatrically will find this show absolutely representative of their approach. And compared to a lot of what else is out there, it's fairly fresh and stimulating. But not for the Frantics themselves: this is territory they have visited often before, with little besides the details of narrative to distinguish it from a clutch of their other works. They had seemed to be moving towards new ground; best for them to get back on that path pretty sharpish, rather than just peddling more boxes of the same brand.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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