In modern day Tokyo, five young troublemakers are spared jail sentences under the condition that they train with sensei Wang Tang, who teaches them the foundations of the martial art Pih Poh Fu. They refuse to take him seriously at first, but as time passes they become disciplined and skilled and Wang Tang assigns each of them a spirit animal.
Meanwhile, Wang Tang’s own story is played out as we learn that he is one of the five Guardians of Prana – guarding an orb to prevent an evil sorcerer from harnessing the elements. But a fellow guardian has grown greedy for power: Soo Lin has made it her mission to collect all five orbs and rule the world, and it is up to Wang Tang’s young apprentices to stop her.
Blue Boy Entertainment’s fusion of martial arts and hip-hop dance devised by top UK choreographer Kendrick ‘H2O’ Sandy is wildly effective, and a simple set designed by Sander Loonen creates room to tell the story.
Manga graphics from admired Japanese artist Akio Tanaka and animation by Yeast Culture are projected onto a backdrop and the set is made three-dimensional by the simple but highly effective use of a few rhombus-shaped plastic boxes that are swiftly rearranged from scene to scene to create landscapes, platforms, a court bench, a bar table and so on.
The costumes, by Jane Dickinson, draw on hip-hop, youth culture and traditional Japanese dress, reflecting the genre-melding nature of this ambitious show.
The complicated narrative is perhaps the only weakness in The Five as audiences are left none the wiser about what the ‘Prana’ actually is. But with dance performances from the likes of Jumar ‘Jumanji’ Aben (Lao Chen) and Michele ‘Paleta’ Rhyner (Soo Lin), it is not necessary to enjoy the plot. Arts Council funding meant Blackpool’s Grand Theatre were able to host The Five for two nights over October half-term, and it is a shame that more parents didn’t make the most of this stunning and fast-paced show, which will captivate children and grown-ups alike.