Review: Before the Dawn (Eventim Apollo, London)

From an outsider’s perspective, Before the Dawn shows a musician at the absolute top of her game. But at times, the sheer power of Kate Bush‘s vocals and her music are outshined by unnecessary visual distractions. The result is a three-hour, three-part spectacle that – at times – feels far too fragmented and loses sight of what it is trying to be.

Kate Bush Before the Dawn poster
Kate Bush Before the Dawn poster

I’ll admit now that I’m not your typical Kate Bush fan. While I’ve always appreciated the more popular early work, her more recent albums have left me feeling uninspired, and to add to that I just don’t ‘get’ the fascination with ‘A Sky of Honey’ – the second half of the album titled ‘Aerial’. So it’s safe to say I was in the minority at the Eventim Apollo last night.

That said, with the promise of a more theatrical experience than your typical gig, I was intrigued what Before the Dawn would include.

The evening got started in a relatively formulaic way, with a straightforward performance of some of Kate’s better known hits – ‘Running up that Hill’ and ‘Hounds of Love’ were both present. Backed by the powerful band and a simple pyramid of white lights, she seemed more at home than I had expected. It was simple, clean and a welcome return to the stage. And when she came to ‘Top of the City’, belting out the chorus with some impressive growls, it was clear just how strong vocally she still is. It worked, it showed her for the artist that she is, and the music spoke for itself.

Kate Bush at the Eventim Apollo (Photo by Ken McKay/REX)
Kate Bush at the Eventim Apollo (Photo by Ken McKay/REX)

After those first six songs, the pace of the evening changed considerably. Leaving the conventional performance behind, we moved into ‘The Ninth Wave’, the second half of her ‘Hounds of Love’ album.  With a change of set, the appearance of smoke and confetti canons, it was a bit like the tornado arriving in Oz – the complete opposite of the show’s opening, and the beginning of the more theatrical elements.

Honestly though, ‘The Ninth Wave’ did not work for me, despite going in with the expectation that I would appreciate it the most. The theatrics seemed at odds with the music. With multiple pieces of scenery being dragged on stage, fish people, numerous wave effects, a lighting rig doubling up as a helicopter and illusions galore, it was everything I would normally lap up (although special mention has to go to Mark Henderson, whose lighting design throughout the entire show is nothing but stunning!). Even though it was all done incredibly well, it was distracting; Kate was no longer the focus of the night.

The Ninth Wave (Photo by Ken McKay/REX)
The Ninth Wave (Photo by Ken McKay/REX)

This would have been entirely forgivable if the story had been strong enough for it to be a full-on theatrical experience, but it wasn’t. While the narrative makes sense, it feels fragmented and the frequent set changes only emphasised that. In fact the best moments of this section were when it was more stripped back – seeing Kate isolated in a tank on screen was a beautiful touch, for example.

In the second half of the show we were treated to ‘The Sky of Honey’. The show once again changed direction to include puppetry and an array of projections that will likely make ornithophobics recoil in fear. Despite my earlier criticism of the music, this was by far the stronger half of the show. Instead of the staging being the focus, Kate was once again given centre stage. And while the theatrics continued, they took a back seat, working to help give focus and clarity to the music, rather than overpowering it.

That’s not to say this half was perfect – it was tonally a bit uneven – but overall it felt more consistently about the star of the show that the audience had come to see.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

This really is a five star performer in a three star production. Tonally, it feels inconsistent, and the better moments are those where Kate Bush is able to unleash her powerful vocals or the staging is stripped back. There are some outstanding moments but because of the fragmented feel they often don’t come together to create a consistent evening.

Before the Dawn is running at Eventim Apollo until 1st October 2014. All tickets are sold out.

And the seat…

Circle, row Q, seat 24. Overall this provided a great view, and didn’t feel too distant despite the size of the theatre. Leg room was good and the seat was comfy following the refurb of the Eventim Apollo. The only issue was that any action taking place near the front of the stage was slightly interrupted by the less than adequate rake.

Eventim Apollo circle row q seat 24
Eventim Apollo Circle, Row Q seat 24

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