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Lord of the Dance in high-tech high jinks

Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games. Produced by Michael Flatley.  Canberra Theatre. Until October 11. Bookings: canberratheatre.com.au.

Once upon a time there was pantomime. The story was straightforward and almost always concerned the triumph of good over evil. Stock characters revved up the audience to hiss, boo, cheer, clap, whistle and shout.

Now there's Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, a new take on his earlier Lord of the Dance, first staged in 1996.

Like pantomime, Dangerous Games also has an obvious story about good and evil in which the principal characters, especially the leading man, the Lord of the Dance (Cathal Keaney), play unashamedly to the audience, urging them show their involvement with lots of noise. And, on opening night, the Canberra audience obliged with gusto.

But Dangerous Games breaks new ground in ways that were unavailable in the days of pantomime, especially in the use of image technology to set the scene.

The image sequences that made up the background for the scenes where harmony and goodness flourished included rushing waterfalls, fountains spraying high into the air, idyllic landscapes, horses running across the screen, unicorns frolicking in fields, and butterflies and birds soaring heavenwards.

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All took place in a riot of colour, which was at times a little cloying.

When matters grew grim, we were faced with burning forests, dark skies, robot-like figures and a lack of colour beyond dramatic reds and blacks.

Lighting was similarly grand-scale with strobes, spotlights beaming in all directions including out into the auditorium, and pyrotechnical flashes that covered up, as if by magic, the disappearance of characters when needed in the story. 

The evening was structured into a series of short episodes. Some carried the story along, which basically concerned the struggle of the Lord of the Dance to overcome the forces of the Dark Lord and his disciples – and those disciples looked a little like Darth Vader and sometimes the Grim Reaper.

Other episodes were purely dance sequences, while a few were sung items, which also carried the story.

The dancers were definitely the highlight. Their skills were outstanding, whether in acrobatic feats or in Irish dancing of various kinds.

They were beautifully rehearsed and impeccably dressed, although I found it slightly annoying that that sound of tap shoes was dubbed into the score. Real-time sound would have been nicer, I think. 

The penultimate episode, III Lords, was a highlight and a tribute to Flatley's own dance skills. He appeared on a screen, placed high in the upstage area, in carefully edited, triple-screen footage. Each of the three brilliantly performed sequences acknowledged and related to the others. 

Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games is an extravaganza. It is very colourful and its score is played very loud.

Its full-on theatricality and commercial qualities leave little doubt that Flatley is out to draw in an audience, have them as engaged as possible, and send them home beaming (and perhaps a little hoarse from all that shouting).