Mark Morris’ Pepperland review: The ensemble are disciplined and the choreography is fiercely tight

Pepperland. Photo: Gareth Jones

Pepperland. Photo: Gareth Jones - Credit: Gareth Jones

It takes some guts to mess with The Beatles, and it takes some serious panache to pull it off.

This hour-long dance tribute to their landmark St Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album certainly gives it some welly, from the neon-bright costumes to the rather heavy liberties taken with some of the music.

The show features less than half the album, drags in single Penny Lane, and includes five new compositions, all performed live and set to modern dance from a 17-strong ensemble.

The result is what frequently resembles an Apple advert directed by Neil Gaiman: bright, bold, and often bloody confusing. Bits work brilliantly: from the exemplary theremin player, to the fairly straight dramatisation of Penny Lane, and a few playful hints at music played backwards.

Other parts are clever exercises that are tripped up by their own ambition: the increasingly fractured timing of When I'm Sixth-Four as extra dancers join a central line up takes real skill to perform but is pretty unpleasant to listen to.

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The biggest mystery though is why the production chose to ignore such rich material as She's Leaving Home, or – particularly criminal in Norwich – For The Benefit of Mr Kite. What couldn't you do with a song about a circus?

The ensemble are disciplined, strong, and talented, with Lesley Garrison and Sarah Haarmann particularly standing out, and the choreography is fiercely tight, making frequent use of dancers breaking through lines or circles of fellow performers. There is wit and drama.

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But does it work? St Pepper is a fractured album, a mix of styles and layered with contradictions; so is Pepperland. Let's see if the show survives as long as the album.

• Pepperland continues at Norwich Theatre Royal with matinee and evening performances on Wednesday, April 24

• Tickets are available for £10 - £32.50 from Norwich Theatre Royal's website

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