Michael Flatley, the 47-year-old Irish-American who created the phenomenally successful Riverdance and its sequels, is back from retirement. Celtic Tiger opens with a vast pair of glossy lips filling a screen and saying: “There’s no place like home.” On stage, Flatley clicks his heels and suddenly we’re catapulted through selected highlights of Irish history, portrayed through toetaps and leprechaun leaps. Is this some mutant hybrid of Riverdance, the Wizard of Oz and Rocky Horror? Yes, it really is – only not in a good way.
Is this some mutant hybrid of Riverdance, the Wizard of Oz and Rocky Horror? Yes, it really is – only not in a good way
The Riverdance influence is clearest in the choreography: loose ankles and ramrod torsos, steps in machine-drilled unison, weaving lines of dancers jiggling like bobbins on a loom. Celtic Tiger is, too, a green-tinted hymn to Ireland, with pastoral panoramas and bucolic scenes of winsome lasses. St Patrick is represented by a group of monks who alternately pray and whirl about, thus banishing a nest of snake-women from the Emerald Isle. More surreal is a scene of women dressed as bees and butterflies (think schoolgirl end-of-term show) while behind them the screen pulsates druggily with psychedelic flowers.
Celtic Tiger is full of overblown posturing, trashy sentiment and thumping beats – all very Rocky Horror, except there’s no sense of self-parody. The Wizard of Oz angle, meanwhile, links the show’s two halves. While act one includes struggles and hardships – British colonisation, famine, the Easter Rising – act two takes us over the rainbow to America, a theme park of gorgeous colours and happy people. On arrival, our Aer Lingus stewardess stripteases down to a stars-and-stripes bikini, the stepdancers slip into slinky satin costumes, and we meet serried ranks of cowboys, gangsters and yankees.
The narrative also peters out into a succession of rabble-rousing numbers, complete with quotes from Flatley’s earlier shows. So although the self-styled Lord of the Dance doesn’t hog the stage, Celtic Tiger nevertheless recounts a story in which centuries of Irish hope and history lead up to, well, Michael Flatley. Dispiriting.