Hero, a mix of dance, theatre and music by Théâtre Libre, introduces us to a world where a major battle has been fought and won thanks to Hero, a Xena-like warrior in an equestrian outfit. The fierce young woman just wants a toastie in return for her services. From the moment that anachronistic jibe reached our ears, I was hoping for an evening of absurdist adventure and irreverent fun. Too bad, then, that this wobbly 90 minute tale turns out to take itself a tad too seriously.
Accompanied by lovely guitar and violin music and interspersed with sequences of pleasant choreography, the show includes so many narratives and characters that it can’t possibly seem to fit it all in – Hero’s supposedly complex personality remains ultra flat, for instance, constrained in a constant fit of anger. Though the characters make a hundred mentions of the vile enemy, we never get to know who they are, making it very hard to weigh up the stakes. Furthermore, the language jumps from heightened to colloquial like an excitable child, and the numerous fight scenes (however well-executed) feel forced into the story. Separately, these issues are excusable, but as they pile up it becomes increasingly difficult to immerse yourself.
The main problem with Hero, however, is that somewhere in the middle of the play the central focus shifts from Hero’s return to home (that she is reluctant to go back to anyway, for reasons obscure) to a quest for a lost violin. Its owner, Poet, annoys Hero to the bone and is everything she doesn’t like: arty, idealist, bubbly. Nonetheless, the journey they undertake to retrieve the instrument culminates in possibly the most unconvincing subplot of love interest I have ever seen.
While the writing is difficult to appreciate, some directorial choices could be challenged as well, not least the one that sees the Gypsy Father double as narrator which adds to the already considerable confusion. Odd, too, since the number of actors performing on the small stage has reached ten by the end – the last one only appearing minutes before the curtain falls. It is a blessing that Janet Kumah as Guide, it has to be said, is on stage for most of the action and counters the flustered fairy tale with determination and serenity.
Overall, Hero contains moments of atmospheric dance and live music, but the puzzling story leaves the audience behind from the outset and does little for them to catch up.
Hero is playing Leicester Square Theatre until 15 March. For more information and tickets, see the Leicester Square Theatre website.