Mark Bruce’s Return to Heaven is more shlock than genuine horror. Bruce is practised in murky dread – his dance-theatre take on Macbeth was a genuinely grisly treat. But here he’s unhooked from narrative structure and the result is a freewheeling fest of silliness in which a fine cast of dancers appears frustratingly underused. The futz to dance ratio is high.
Dane Hurst and Eleanor Duval play adventurers in an unspecified land: he contemplates a skull on an overturned crate (as you do), she lurks languidly beneath a mosquito net. It’s never a good sign when a blank-faced scientist in a lab coat and a pair of prerequisite specs surveys the scene with a clipboard, Westworld-style. Is it really all an experiment?
The piece strains for surreal profundity, but the clichés pile up against the shrieking Hitchcock strings: a squirming, creeping physical language of contagion infects the couple’s duet before she’s pulled beneath the spidery roots of a tree by some bulbous, tentacled creature. Some wild thrashing for the ensemble ensues, as Duval reappears with fangs, blood trailing from her gaping mouth.
In the second act, proceedings become simultaneously weirder and more tedious as Duval crunches on her companion’s head and the scientist – also sporting fangs – sticks an astronaut’s helmet onto Hurst. Naturally, he ends up in ancient Egypt, where a bloke in a mask portentously pops some entrails in a pot. The dancers give it their all and there are some briefly lyrical sections, but they’re on a thankless quest.