Prodigal Theatre’s Urban Playground

24 July – Parkour Fusion – Watch This Space, NT

“Urban” will sell any old rubbish to the suburban these days. Remove the “urban” and replace the ‘urban’ music with, say, “Greased Lightening” and this show was simply very bad dance that wouldn’t survive for ten seconds in the West End. The men did some mildly impressive moves, my particular favourite was one fella standing on his head and making a show of falling over, but mostly they postured like mtv gansta rappers posing as Mussolini (you know, arms crossed, hands gripping elbows, chin pushed forward and up).

The girls pranced like rejects from tap and jazz school doing a bit of ‘urban’ while waiting for a call from Arlene Phillips that will surely never, ever come. This is no joke. Me and my neighbour Frank were laughing our heads off and I heard someone behind “they keep doing the same thing” but most of the audience were applauding. All in all, you have to wonder why.

Why would these people do this? Why would the NT pay these people?  Why would an audience clap this?

Of course the second question answers the first and the second is probably a misplaced attempt to attract a younger audience. Of course, the potential spending power of the middle class youth is the target of all this. Get em while they’re young. That is why power companies spend money building schools that otherwise would not allow corporate logos to dominate the playgrounds.

Wikipedia says parkour is “closer to martial arts” and “is not considered to be performance”. It is a discipline “focused on moving from one point to another as smoothly, efficiently and quickly as possible…built on the philosophical premise that any obstacle, physical or mental, can be surpassed”. Sounds great. Just nothing to do with tonight’s show.

Prodigal Theatre's Urban Playground

Prodigal Theatre's Urban Playground


The NT admits this programme is “safe”  with “careful training and supervision” unlike the “controversial….urban nuisance” that is street parkour. This paternal attitude is reflected by the set – a climbing frame. A tame, un-challenging, itzy-bitzy climbing frame ironically located in one of Europe’s great concrete landscapes. Waterloo is parkour paradise. These days you can’t step outside without some little daredevil leaping over your head and scrambling up unfeasibly high walls.

Why would an audience clap this? I guess out of politeness. After all, it was demanded, shouting into a microphone, by one of tonight’s performers. This nineteen minute long show fittingly ended with all the performers punching the air at different times – a poorly executed cliche.

This wasn’t street, this wasn’t martial arts, this wasn’t acrobatics, this wasn’t athletics, this wasn’t parkour. And I don’t mean that in a “hey this was beyond genre” sort of way but more a “this was just really crap dancing” sort of way.

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One Response to “Prodigal Theatre’s Urban Playground”

  1. Alister O'Loughlin Says:

    Very interested to read a review written with such an authoritive tone and so little basis in fact or in research. The fact that the West End, Arlene Philips and Wikipedia are your references demonstrate the enormous lack of understanding you’ve brought to our project.

    The Urban Playground was my idea and there is a deliberate method in working on a reduced set which can be transported and placed within a circle of audience members so that we can bring parkour and dance to them, rather than asking them to come to us. Of course since the project started we have been making site-specific work as well, but that’s beside the point.

    The team you saw perform are all professional performers who have made the choice to author their own work. Interestingly the one member of the team who regularly performed in front of your chosen judge, Arlene Philips, was a semi-finalist in “Strictly Dance Fever” – or to put it another way they came fourth in a competition of 80,000 competitors.

    Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information – like your blog it is an anonymous forum for anyone to contribute on, however poorly reserached their comments may be.

    Two of the performers you saw are co-creators of Parkour. They were founder members of the Yamakasi – the original parkour group – and have been practicing and evolving the art form daily for twenty years. To say that what we’re doing isn’t parkour is to demonstrate your ignorance of parkour – it is not a matter of opinion, you are factually incorrect in your assertion.

    To describe us as demanding applause from the audience is similarly incorrect. We asked them to make noise if they liked what they were seeing. On the friday evening we had around 1,200 people roar their approval. I think few of them were as middle-class in their opinions as you.

    It is true that we repeat moves. This is a choreographic device called repition. Even West End choreographers use it.

    It’s also important to note that your editing of the National’s copy on our residency is deliberately misleading – they do not describe Parkour as an urban nuisance, they point out that some people do – they also point out that others love it. They love Parkour. They hate the fact that people who aren’t properly trained and don’t really understand Parkour attempt to jump over people’s heads and scramble up “unfeasibly high walls”.

    The number of injuries in the UK parkour scene is huge compared to the relative absence of injuries in the french Parkour community and it is because of this huge misunderstanding that we teach people the basics on a small set.

    By the way – I invite you to jump from the 3m high top of our UPG set and then describe it as itsy-bitsy again. I wonder if that would allow you to see the work differently – I sincerely hope so…

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