Stomp still banging on

CHRIS PARKIN
Last updated 10:35 29/07/2013
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BIN THERE: Kiwi performer Ian Vincent, centre, in British company Stomp. "Walking out in front of all those people thinking you better not stuff up because the world's watching."

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Ian Vincent, the New Zealand Stomp tour will mean some long overdue home cooking. "Mum will probably come to every show and hopefully bring some baking backstage like she did last time. That's what I can't wait for."

For the past four years, the Te Awamutu-born Vincent has been "voluntarily homeless", living out of hotel rooms as a professional Stomper – one of the few people on earth paid to travel the world to hit household objects.

"Hotels sometimes dread us coming," he smiles. "We're a noisy bunch, always bashing on something, a baguette, a plate or just knives and forks on the table."

In the Casino de Paris theatre in downtown Paris, Vincent and another half dozen members of Stomp are rehearsing for what Wellington audiences will see.

Backstage piles of paint cans sit alongside giant oil drums with ski boots bolted to the top, each fitted for a specific performer. There are dozens of broken broom handles and spare pans, pipes, lids, sticks, hammers, everything including the kitchen sink.

Four of them, in fact, complete with soapy water (think twice about booking a front row seat). And, of course, there are the famous dustbin lids. After too many injuries from the handles breaking off the dustbin lids they are now custom made and, along with the tonnes of other props, are freighted around the world ahead of the show.

A props manager is double-checking everything while technicians make final adjustments to the rest of the elaborate junkyard set – a sort of Mad Max meets West Side Story.

This slick operation is a far cry from the novelty act that debuted at the Edinburgh Festival more than 22 years ago when a couple of mates from Brighton raided a local junk yard for anything that made a satisfying sound in their frantic drumming/dance/comedy routine.

Edinburgh's seen thousands of these "theatrical busking" performances over the years, most play to a few hundred people and are never heard of again.

But more than two decades on, Stomp is still making itself heard around the world: 20 years on Broadway, over a decade on the West End and last year the proof that it's become a British institution, a performance in the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games.

It's a long way from where Vincent's Stomp drumming began, in a Te Awamutu school music class. "I remember our music teacher put on a Stomp DVD to keep the class quiet and that was it – that was all we wanted to do."

It wasn't until years later when he was at Wellington's Performing Arts Centre that Stomp's creators were in town and invited the talented dancer to a brief audition, "probably the most important and scariest two minutes of my professional life".

It went well enough for Vincent to be invited to join the cast in Australia for a full audition at the Sydney Opera House and before he knew it he was thumping broom handles into stages in Tokyo, Cape Town, Paris and Barcelona, before finally finding himself walking into the middle of the Olympic Stadium last year in front of a worldwide audience of hundreds of millions. "It felt like my first show all over again," he says.

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"All those butterflies but times a billion. Walking out in front of all those people thinking you better not stuff up because the world's watching."

An hour before the show in Paris, the cast is spread out throughout rehearsal rooms warming up by thrashing out beats on whatever's handy and doing elaborate stretches on the floor. Every one of them has had some sort of Stomp-related injury; everything from tennis elbow to torn cartilage and when your livelihood depends on your ability to throw sometimes very heavy objects against the floor it pays to keep in shape.

The Parisian audience file into their seats knowing what they've come to see if not exactly what to expect. After 20 years, the show is so well known that the creators have to work hard to keep it fresh with new cast members and of course new "instruments". Shopping trolleys, Zippo lighters, and the S-bend tube from a toilet will all feature in Paris. The crowd clap, thump and cheer along – the energy and speed of it all hard to resist.

It's extraordinary that a show with no speaking and no real story can keep an audience's attention for an hour and a half.

Spectacular cacophonous group pieces combined with dexterous solo performances (Vincent's broom stick routine is rhythmically and physically extraordinary) create a show that is compelling, impressive and funny.

Sometimes the most simple routines are the most intriguing and entertaining – eight people standing in the dark flicking Zippo lighters on and off in a tightly choreographed sequence had the audience squealing with delight.

There are no tricks or special effects or fancy stunts, it's effectively just eight people on stage with a bunch of junk you could find in any garage.

But after 22 years and an estimated audience of over 15 million people, this is a show that's much more than just noise.

THE DETAILS

Stomp, St James Theatre, Wellington, tomorrow until August 4 and ASB Theatre, Auckland, August 6 to 11.

- The Dominion Post

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