Drew McOnie, the inventive deviser and choreographer of ‘Drunk’, straddles worlds. He has worked closely with Mattew Bourne and done a whole slew of accessible modern dance pieces as well as choreographed musicals ancient and modern. He is an avowed populist, the programme cites Balanchine (‘On Your Toes’ 1936), Agnes de Mille (‘Oklahoma’ 1942) and Jerome Robbins (‘West Side Story’ 1957) as both inspirations and forebears.
The influences are clear in ‘Drunk’, but not in a derivative way. This 85-minute ‘cocktail’ of dance and song sketches is hugely energetic, driven and entertaining. I was expecting a dance spectacular, and spectacular it certainly is, but it is also a musical, albeit one which ambles plotwise through a series of highly imaginative divertissements around the theme of drink. ‘Ice’ (Gemma Sutton) is, as the name suggests, frozen. She is full of regrets for missing out on her true love (‘Cider’ – Simon Hardwick) because she was too uptight to respond to him, but by the end she – well, melts – and in the belting 11 o’clock number ‘Fruit Punch’ announces that she is ready to join the world again.
All the characters are drinks, but the ones which make the most impact are the ones which inspire the most distinctive and apt choreography. The show-stopping ‘Absinthe’ (Anabel Kutay) in sinful green has a beautifully langorous, seductive, decadent number with music of a French chanson tinge “Under My Spell”. ‘Vodka’ is appropriately Russian, mournful and nostalgic. The other highlight is the rock’n’roll ‘Cocktails’ – the word has its own double entendre - a cheerfully filthy gay ensemble as the boys sing (and act out) a list of cocktails: Orgasm, Slow Comfortable Screw, Wallbanger – need I say more?
Grant Olding, music and lyrics, has a string of National Theatre successes behind him plus some impressive film and TV credits, and the music is lean, jazzy, tuneful and apt. I wish I could be as enthusiastic about his lyrics, which seem to me a little clogged, lacking the last degree of shape. In particular I have problems with the 11 o’clock number, which seems to me lyrically unfocussed. It also feels rather strained in the ‘we’ve got to have an affirmative closer’ manner, and not really earned. Gemma Sutton gives it her considerable all, but her huge voice is too big for this small space, and the song really needs more shaping and building.
That aside, the choreography and dancing are a dream. This is a new company, although several have worked together at the Leicester Curve and in Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. Between them they have hoofing credits on at least two dozen musicals. The result is razor sharp, but also shows the emergence of a genuine and distinctive company ‘feel’. All dance in some sense is about sex, and these dancers are fit in all senses of the word.
The lighting is brilliant, the set simple, effective and atmospheric, the five-piece band is funky – so funky in fact that the audience is reluctant to leave at the end and miss their jazzy exit music. But leave we had to, eventually, with big grins all over our faces. There are three weeks to catch this show, and if you want a night of pure entertainment I urge you to book now; though it has Transfer and/or National Tour written all over it.