Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received free admission to write an open and honest show review of ZooNation’s Message in a Bottle performance by Kate Prince.

Message in a Bottle is an evening-length production with an entire soundtrack of music composed by Sting. Choreographed by Kate Prince and performed by her ZooNation company, the dance programme tells the story of a family, whose home is destroyed – and how they carry on to find a new life in a foreign country. Prince makes the case that her production differs from musical theatre, but audience members may still leave with the impression that they have seen a riveting musical (sans singing).

“I want [Message in a Bottle] to have a very clear narrative, but it’s not like musical theatre. There you don’t stop to express a single emotion in a piece of dance. That’s what we do here.”

– Kate Prince, Founder of ZooNation: The Kate Prince Company
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

Message in a Bottle Review

Act I

Sting’s Desert Rose with Algerian musician Cheb Mami whisks the audience far away from drizzly London, where we meet a vibrant community – and a family of five. Their happiness is illustrated with tricks of both the hip-hop and lyrical variety: easy aerials with tucked knees and turning leaps. The good times continue to roll with a flirtatious pursuit to Every Little Thing She Does it Magic and a wedding to Fields of Gold, but the story quickly turns dark.

Crashes and flashes of light disturb the festivities, and uncertainty blossoms. The performers hold up lanterns in the dark, gazing outward to divine their future. Meanwhile, the others embrace and comfort each other in the face of the unknown. When the assault begins, dancers stagger backwards and land in defensive postures, trying to brace for what’s to come.

“We are confronted by stories of displacement every day… We regularly hear about migrants fleeing oppressive regimes, but the focus is often on the catastrophic political in-fighting… and we lose sight of the people affected.”

Lolita Chakrabarti, Message in a Bottle programme notes

Watch our one-minute video dance review!

Don’t Stand So Close to Me is particularly unsettling. The community has no time to mourn for their losses. Masked intruders march into the space and menacingly caress the women in a manner that conveys violence rather than love. The women stand with knees bent and hinge their torsos back, looking up in defiance or praying for a higher power to intervene. Perhaps both.

The survivors leave their old world behind and embark on a perilous journey by sea, donning orange life vests. Ravaged by storms, they repeat a chorus of hand movements like a mantra of hope. The lighting goes black and they awake on new shores. The refugees have survived, but they’re dressed as prisoners and taken to cells; so they send their “S.O.S. to the world” right before intermission.

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

Act II

The pace of the second act slows down. The stage doesn’t bust at the seams with the entire cast, and the audience connects with each of the siblings one on one as they buy their way to freedom. We literally watch them trade precious tokens of their past life in order to begin their new lives, and we can sense the indifference of callous officials.

Prince’s choreography deftly demonstrates many of the issues that refugees face, even after they are admitted to a new country. It illustrates how trauma can persist long after the threat of danger, and how it can be difficult to connect with people from a completely different background and language.

The piece closes with bittersweet notes. The siblings assimilate; they find love; and they reconnect. But despite being settled, they wistfully reminisce about their past peaceful family life. Still, they carry on together. What more can they do?

“This is a piece about the strength human beings have to keep going, to find peace again in their lives, despite trauma. It’s about resilience.”

– Kate Prince, Founder of ZooNation
Star Rating:

We see snippets of refugees’ journeys on the news; but Message in a Bottle eloquently strings together their complete, perilous journey. The production humanises the people who have no choice but to leave home and invokes nothing but empathy and good will from the audience.

The gripping production caused my fellow audience members to stand in applause, brush tears from their eyes and sing Sting’s songs as they exited the theatre. Fantastic.

Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

If You See Message in a Bottle

Show Dates: 6 Feb – 21 Mar 2020

Show Times: The matinée and evening performance times vary.

Some matinées run at 2:00pm; others run at 2:30pm.

Some evening shows run at 6:30pm; others run at 7:30pm.

Run Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, including a 20-minute interval

Price: £14 – £89

Theatre: The Peacock (a Sadler’s Wells venue)

Address: Portugal Street, Holborn, WC2A 2HT, London

Nearest tube station(s): Holborn, Covent Garden, Temple

Ticket office phone number: +44 2078 638222

You can view upcoming shows and book tickets through their website:

Have you viewed any other works choreographed by Kate Prince – like Tales of the Turntable or Some Like it Hip Hop? Tell us about them in the comments below!

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