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Review: Message in a Bottle at Joan Sutherland Theatre Sydney Opera House

Review by Nola Bartolo It’s not easy to fill The Joan Sutherland Theatre, yet the Sadler’s Wells and Universal Music UK production of Message in a Bottle did just that. It felt like a new audience and a new crowd of dance enthusiasts enjoying the spectacular athleticism of the performers dancing and telling a story of loss and hope to the internationally acclaimed music of Sting with ZooNation. With a standing ovation no less.


I am a lifelong fan of The Police and Sting’s music. I remember being five and begging my sister to take me to The Synchronicity Tour in Sydney but not going. Luckily, they got back together again when I was an adult and could sleep out for tickets and watch them live in Sydney at their Reunion Tour which by the way opened with Message in a Bottle. So, when this opportunity came up to review, I jumped at the chance. I am glad I did.


The cast of incredible dancers combine gravity-defying hip hop and contemporary dance with breath-taking music, Message in a Bottle is a vital story of humanity and hope that explores the global refugee crisis through the lens of one family’s experiences. What a time to be telling this story as it continues to feed our Social Media pages in today’s current fragile political climate.


Message in a Bottle depicts a village alive with joyous celebrations suddenly come under siege. In the chaos, three siblings - Leto, Mati and Tana - are separated from their parents. They undertake a perilous journey to new lands and set out on their own extraordinary adventures. Through the score and choreography, the emotions and struggles of the siblings come vividly alive – from the initial feelings of dispossession to the human drive to persevere and survive.


Kate Prince, the Artistic Director of ZooNation and Message in a Bottle’s director and choreographer is in my opinion a genius. To have the dream of putting on a production to the music of Sting telling a story, just one story of the survival of people, humans displaced and removed from their homes and often split up to fend for themselves in what is and can be a very cruel world, through dance – is remarkable. It works. It works well. It was harrowing at times to watch but it ended in sheer joy.


The set design by Ben Stones, the lighting design by Natasha Chivers and the video design by Andrzej Goulding all combined with the choreography, costumes and music was electrifying. Truly a blend that had the audience gasping and cheering, wincing and crying as we all went on this family’s journey.


The stunning soundtrack featured new vocals by Sting and new arrangements by Grammy and Tony award winner Alex Lacamoire (Hamilton, The Greatest Showman). Songs include Every Breath You Take, Roxanne, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Walking on the Moon, Englishman in New York, Shape Of My Heart and Fields Of Gold, So Lonely, Desert Rose and many more.


Even Sting says about the production “When I first saw Message in a Bottle, I was overwhelmed by all the different styles of dance in the show. What I really didn’t expect was to be so emotionally engaged in the story. Kate’s imaginative story and beautiful choreography has brought my songs to new life.”


This is a powerful production that really deserves a longer season. I do hope that it returns because it is incredible. Truly a powerhouse on our Joan Sutherland Theatre stage.


Message in a Bottle is currently playing at the Sydney Opera House until 29 October 2023.


Image Credit: Daniel Boud

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