Black Sabbath – The Ballet Review

Birmingham Hippodrome – until 30 September 2023

Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau


Black Sabbath – The Ballet, Credit: Johan Persson/

Black Sabbath and ballet seem like unlikely bedfellows. So left-field a concept that it made the show irresistible, especially given the approval and collaboration of original Sabbath band members, particularly guitarist Tony Iommi who was very closely involved.

The ballet falls into three acts. Act 1:“Heavy Metal Ballet” showcased ballet’s barrier breaking qualities whilst also presenting Birmingham to the world as a culture capital, through the music of Black Sabbath. From the darkness emerge our first troupe of dancers as Ozzy’s voice rings out with the opening lines of War Pigs. I really enjoyed Marc Hayward’s role as “Guitar Spirit”. Not only was his playing masterful (since he had a lot of interaction with dancers onstage) but the Gibson SG is synonymous with the band, so having it up there was like welcoming an old friend.

The stage’s darkness was almost a performer in its own right; it was certainly a presence! Perhaps a metaphor for Heavy Metal, 1970’s Birmingham, Sabbath themselves… During the show light boxes descended displaying iconic images from the band’s history. Minimal staging, but very apt with black and white being the predominant colours.

Birmingham Royal Ballet is world renowned for a reason and tonight’s performance showed why. The choreography was mostly modern with a smattering of more classical steps, giving something to please everyone. The “eternal kiss” (two dancers locked at the lips for an extended dance sequence) was just one highlight of a surprisingly romantic feeling work, in which the entire company brought unbounded passion and energy.

Act 2: “The Band” was even better than Act 1. I loved the voice overs from the original band members and Sharon too. Set against a backdrop of neon “strings”, it was subtle and perfectly pitched to concentrate the attention on the story of the band’s formation.

The music was superb throughout, giving us some of the band’s original music (both pre-recorded and newly orchestrated) as well as brand new material inspired by Sabbath’s songbook. A perfect way to pay homage to the band’s legacy past and present. Act 3: “Everybody Is A Fan” was the absolute pinnacle, beginning with all the dancers in the 70’s Sabbath t-shirts making this final act really vivid (seeing all those colours after the largely monochrome earlier acts was inspired!). The Guitar Spirit reappeared and eventually all the dancing groups assemble for the finale. The kitchen sink was thrown at this final act (including an impressive Demon atop an overturned car), making a powerful impact. To top it all off Tony Iommi himself appeared with guitar, joining the orchestra for the climax song “Paranoid”. The roof came off the place. I understand that this was a special guest appearance rather than being a nightly occurrence, so we were extra privileged to witness this. Everyone deserves enormous praise for putting this ballet together, not least Director Carlos Acosta as the driving force behind it’s conception. On the way home Black Sabbath was blasting out of the speakers and I was looking forward to future Birmingham Royal Ballet shows, all the while feeling proud of England’s second city. Job very much done! A wonderful show I cannot recommend highly enough.