Dandelion Heart

This week’s ADC lateshow leads to AMI JONES running away from the circus.

ADC Ami Jones carnival lateshow madness magic new writing physical theatre points for trying unrealised ambition

ADC, 12th – 15th 

11pm, £4 – £6

Directed by Nikki Moss


All this lateshow ever wanted to do was grow up to be big, bad and brutal. It dreamed of being raw and slick. It ached to be original and punchy. But most of all, it wanted to be weird and wonderful.

And how the lateshow tried. From its very first moments how it kicked, screamed and fought to be all those fabulous things. And how close it came! The five minutes of curiously uneventful curtain-gazing that preceded its birth were shattered with a cry by the bombast and madness of a perfectly cast Tom England as Benjamin Benjamin, a more manic and sinister form of Jim Broadbent. Incidentally, I still cannot figure out whether or not the five intriguing minutes of solo stage-time the ADC curtain received at the opening was intentional or a technical error, which is exactly why it was so intriguing.

And joy! What a beautiful lateshow it was. What gorgeous set, what brilliant costume! And how wonderful that this lateshow, unlike so many of its dreary siblings, was finally different. Finally bold, finally brave, finally fresh. Writer/director Nikki Moss deserves much praise for bringing such an ambitious child into the world.

Flashes of brilliance filled its ambitious lifetime. James Bloor nearly stole the show from beneath the entire cast’s feet with barely a sound. As Nighttime Tim, he offered an exquisitely performed clown who only comes out when everyone else is asleep, between scenes. The aforementioned Tom England was both a blessing and a curse as the ringmaster of the whimsical and ramshackle travelling circus. A blessing because his energy and physical precision, served with emotional nuance, were a delight, but a curse because this showed up the other three leads onstage. The result was a rather dissatisfying dynamic of one funnyman and three straight men.

But, oh, the lateshow in the end could only scramble mere inches away from its dream. What wanted to be powerful moments of physical theatre simply did not have the technical ability to make themselves work. In spite of the painstaking choreography and practise that had undoubtedly gone into the routines, it was all too painfully evident that none of the four leads were physical capable enough to produce anything that was more than mildly entertaining.

What should have been tight, slick and brutal ended up out of sync, slow, and limp in spite of all the best undertrained intentions in the world. It didn’t help that every ten minutes Moss would find an excuse to gleefully abuse the ADC’s surprisingly powerful strobe lighting system. The lighting would have sent the dance floor of Lola Lo wailing back home with an inferiority complex. And though Moss’ ambition is to be applauded, her scriptwriting at times is not. Particularly trite lines made a solid appearance: “But it’s his heart! His heart!” and, “You make a kind of sense.” “A kind of sense is all we can hope for, really.” Which brought any atmosphere the cast was working hard to generate come crashing down.

But perhaps the biggest failing was that Dandelion Heart didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. At points, it seemed to want to generate a sort of eclectic Knee-High-esque wonder and magic, but lacked the physical skill or sheer levels of energy required to achieve this. At other times, it seemed to want to become a sort of sad broken-down-carnival story, and here it was Moss’ scriptwriting which prevented this, offering little to no cohesion or emotional nuance.

At the end of the day, Dandelion Heart was weird but not quite wonderful. But it can hold its head high, for it had ambition, it had charm, it had a sort of magic – just not quite enough.