Boy Blue Entertainment’s The Five & The Prophecy of Prana, attempts, like its title, to invoke an elaborate theatrical world drawn from manga comics and films – the show even includes opening titles and billing. The premise is essentially as follows: five misfits are recruited by master of martial arts Wang Tang (Tommy Franzen) to fight for, of course, world domination. The plot is, however, made infinitely more complex, for instance by adding Wang Tang’s past and how he rejected Soo Lin (Michèle ‘Paleta’ Rhyner), whose jealousy turns her into a dark force that Wang Tang has to fight. For all its supposed narrative intricacy, none of the plot actually hits home as all the climactic moments are one-on-one fights. On top of that, not only do the manga roots give us textual and visual explanations projected on huge screens, but every sentence uttered by any of the characters is a voiceover, deliberately badly mimicked by the cast, perhaps in reference to the kung fu films of the seventies and eighties. This takes away most of the dramatic tension.

You now probably think that I didn’t enjoy it much. The truth is, I kind of did. The moves are truly impressive, and there is a strong sense of effective choreography (by Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy) and visual splendour on the large Barbican stage. Some scenes perfectly convey that sense of mystery and Eastern mysticism that makes people fall in love with manga. The audience roared as Soo Lin defiantly tells Choo Fang (Frank Wilson) that “I need a rabbit. You are only a turtle”.

The music (by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante) is a collection of thumping tracks with heavy bass, and incorporates the sounds of martial arts cinema. It adds to the fierce feel of the dancing, which has elements of hiphop, breakdance and, naturally, ancient fight moves. Particularly when the ensemble occupy the stage with a group routine, the quality of the technique is obvious. This is fun to watch, but as a show it is simply not sufficient: we are promised a complex and dark story, none of which eventually materialises – you’d better have a thorough read of the programme synopsis beforehand.

On the stage where less than a week ago I saw a German interpretation of an Ibsen play, now has landed a showcase of streetwise dance styles with an attitude – I should laud the Barbican for their sense of diversity and power to surprise. Although on balance I feel The Five does not earn a full two hours’ attention, it does include some killer moves.

The Five & The Prophecy of Prana played at the Barbican Theatre until 4 October. For more information, see the Barbican website.

Photo by Hugo Glendenning.