REVIEW: Hocus Pocus, Dance Umbrella (The Albany)

Given how often we go to the theatre with two small germ magnets, Mummy thinks it’s impressive that we’ve managed to go almost two years without a single cancellation for illness. Sadly, our luck finally came to an end last weekend when the second munchkin went down with the dreaded chicken pox. Quaver carefully squeezed her five days of quarantine in between shows, but Crotchet was not so considerate. Mummy did momentarily consider cancelling the planned family trip to see Hocus Pocus on Sunday. But after a rainy Saturday spent trying to occupy the munchkins with crafts and science experiments that aren’t nearly as exciting as Instagram makes out, cabin fever got the better of Mummy and she decided that she might as well take Quaver.

And since she had spare tickets, Mummy decided to take one of Quaver’s small friends along too, thinking that this would earn her many middle-class play-date points. Said small friend had apparently been to the Albany before, so could presumably be trusted to sit still and gaze in amazement at contemporary dance aimed at ages 7+. Upon arrival at the Albany, Mummy duly awarded herself a prophylactic prosecco, just in case it turned out that this was not the perfect place to take a pair of (newly) six year olds who spent the entire journey telling poo jokes and snorting like pigs.

And in the first few minutes of Hocus Pocus, Mummy started to wonder whether she should have got herself an entire bottle. Although Mummy thought it was magical from the first moment, it’s safe to say it starts slowly. The action takes place in a darkened room, between two incredibly bright lights. As Grieg’s Peer Gynt starts playing, bits of bodies begin to emerge from the darkness. Clearly keen for more than just the hint of a hand or flicker of a foot, Quaver quickly turned to Mummy and declared that it was boring. Meanwhile a slightly older child behind us was loudly muttering that he never planned on coming to this venue ever again. Mercifully, the next thing to appear between the lights was a bottom, to delighted squeals from the younger members of the audience. And thereafter, nobody mentioned boredom again. (Although Mummy did get bored with shushing the children behind her as they munched their way through a multipack of picked onion Monster Munch.)

Hocus Pocus has been conjured up by choreographer Philippe Saire. It’s a visually stunning piece of work which playfully opens up the world of contemporary dance to young audiences. It follows two dancers on a epic journey into the unknown, their bodies darting in and out of sight, accompanied by colourful props and special effects that assault the senses (but in a good way, unlike the Monster Munch). Although there is a story of sorts, it leaves a lot to the imagination. And while smaller audience members are likely to be captivated by the things that emerge into the light, adults may well find themselves wondering about the action that goes on in the darkness. Because, unusually, a lot of the actual movements of the two dancers are completely invisible to the audience. The result is a mysteriously fluid movement that leaves you wondering not only what is happening in the story, but how on earth they are putting themselves into these positions. And whether they can even see what they’re doing! It’s so seamlessly done that it almost looks effortless, but Mummy is fairly sure that it is nothing of the sort. She almost wants to see it again with the lights on, to fully appreciate the physical dexterity of the performers. But she suspects that may just take the magic out of it.

RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles and Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things)

Hocus Pocus is part of the Dance Umbrella festival (8 to 27 October 2019). We saw it at the Albany Theatre on Sunday 13 October 2019. You can catch it at Arts Depot on Thursday 24 October and Stratford Circus Arts Centre on Saturday 26 October.