Stomp was conceived in 1991 as a collaboration between director-musicians Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, and premiered at Edinburgh’s own Assembly Rooms in that year’s Fringe, before taking wing and playing to packed audiences around the world. It eventually settled into a respectable West End run in 2002, and the most indelible impression that most folk have of the show is of its famous climactic Dustbin Dance. It’s easy to see why. The routine first appeared in embryonic form in a popular commercial for Heineken lager, it features on almost all the show’s publicity, as well as amply epitomising the show’s onomatopoeic name. But Stomp is far more multi-faceted than that: it is subtle, surprising, and good for the soul.
The first sign that something unusual might be about to commence is a janitor walking across the stage with his broom. Understated, yes, but this janitor possesses all the physical comedy skill of any A-List comedian. The audience is laughing before the house lights have even dimmed, and there’s nary a dustbin lid in sight.
Gradually, the show teases us into the first of its rhythmic, toe-tapping routines, building up to an energetic and extremely funny broom percussion dance as the janitor is joined onstage by his seven colleagues for a day “on the job”. Few people have Stomp pre-pegged as a comedy (judging by overheard comments, it comes as a bit of a surprise to those audience members who have seen it before as well), but the humour is smart and meticulously timed. Sure, there is the odd knob joke in there, but just as the audience starts to anticipate the visual punchline, the show goes one better and successfully avoids the trap of repeating the same gag over and over with different – and flashier – props.
Thankfully, the use of these always seems organic; it is easy to believe that this is a bunch of janitors on a fag break, or mopping the floor, despite their consistently impressive and meticulously rehearsed routines, because they are talented actors who make their physical and percussion skills seem so effortless that the cogs become invisible. It is, however, the counterpoint quieter moments of the show that take its quality up a notch, and which most strikingly convey its inherent intelligence. In this age of high-tech display, the night’s most ingenious effect, created with a handful of cigarette lighters, is balm to the soul, and the regular interaction of individual members of the cast with the audience creates a sense of both character and rapport that adds a dimension beyond mere spectacle.
By the end of the performance, the name “Stomp” is entirely validated, but it is not so much about what is going on onstage, as beneath it. The audience collectively stamps its feet and slaps its thighs with every bit as much bravura as the cast, and punctuates this riotous cacophony with heart-felt laughter and applause, culminating in a well-deserved standing ovation for the cast. Well-played, Cresswell and McNicholas, well-played.