Travelling by bus can sometimes feel like taking a chance. You might get stuck in traffic, diverted by roadworks, or end up pressed against the window as a stranger beside you discusses deeply personal problems on their phone. Back of the Bus, by Java Dance Theatre, uses these everyday risks as a starting point for a sometimes bizarre, but equally beautiful, dance performance.
The venue for Back of the Bus is a traditional red Routemaster and the audience are given a ticket from a conductor with an old-fashioned machine as they make their way to the top deck. Once seated, the bus begins its journey through the streets of Edinburgh as music plays through a portable speaker and the cast of characters join you on the ride.
The characters feel very familiar: the person carrying far too many bags who just can’t make it to their seat; the smiling stranger who wants to make friends with everyone on the journey; the woman with the phone that won’t stop ringing; and that person who speaks loudly on their phone for all to hear. The performers bring these characters to life, swinging their way down the aisle and pirouetting from the seats.
We make two stops where the cast are given more room in which to show off their skills. They’re all accomplished dancers and physical performers but what comes across most strongly is their warmth and charisma. Their physical comedy is brilliant and the moments of audience interaction are never at the expense of the audience member; they smile encouragingly as they lead us in a moment of movement or get someone to apply their make-up.
It’s joyous to see dance up close like this and the movement of the bus on Edinburgh cobbles makes it feel as though you’re dancing too, swaying and moving to the music. This is a show that will leave you with a smile on your face, happy that you took a chance on this unconventional journey.