Recipe to make a pregnant woman cry: take a cup of Shubert and mix it with a large dose of straight-talking Caryl Churchill; followed by a teaspoon of Chopin, whisked together with the lyrical wonder that is Emson. Once this has started to form a thick and irreversible emotional response, slowly fold in a sprinkling of the silky and luxurious poetry of T.S. Eliot and give it a quick stirring with some raw Gaulier-trained talent. Finally, place in a perfectly formed creative relationship between the fragility and intimacy of Beethoven and the strength and purity of Chekhov. Bake for 15-30 minutes a piece and simply bask in the wonder that is “Sonata Movements” by Concert Theatre at the Blue Elephant Theatre.
Down the far end of a residential back road of South East London, Blue Elephant Theatre sits modestly within it’s surroundings, welcoming with open arms anyone with even a vague interest in the arts and gathering them lovingly into the bossom of what felt like a really happy family. The staff were attentive, smiley, considerate… Someone even introduced me to an actor so that I felt comfortable enough to mingle during the intermission. Small touches like this, you do tend to fondly remember on an evening out and for that, I am grateful.
Watching the performance, it was overwhelmingly clear to me that every single body involved in creating the show cared so passionately about it. Every movement in the space, every lighting queue, every beat in the music filled the room with such energy, there wasn’t a moment that passed where I was bored or restless and, judging by the exacitable comments from other audience members at the end of the performance, I’m pretty sure the feeling was equalled throughout.
Particularly striking was Darren Douglas-Letts’ part in the second short of the evening – Other People’s Gardens – by Emson. Fresh off the National Youth Theatre’s season at the Lyric Hammersmith, he oozed the strength and presence of an actor with 20 years’ more experience in the field but gave the piece the fragility it deserved; his energy a perfect antithesis to Mary Sheen’s slow old lady (for which she played with wonderful comic timing).
I think, the reason why the entire show was so strong was that it’s ethos, it’s internal logic was utterly water-tight. 4 wonderfully written performances about loss, lonliness, a struggle with identity and the fragility of human nature blended lovingly with classical compositions echoing the same message.
Of course, as in any performance, not every detail was perfect. There were odd, fleating moments of awkwardness and several places where the piano was so loud I couldn’t hear what the actors were saying. This got slightly frustrating at times and, I’ll be honest, I did feel the urge once or twice to hiss “shh!” as loudly as I could (obviously, I didn’t). Although, I’m pretty sure that was the point. The pianist beautifully mimicked the emotions of the characters with the strength of her playing. Also playing the role of Music Designer, the Pianist An-Ting Chang, was incredibly precise in her choices and her own performance alongside the actors.
Also important to note is the concept of the company as a whole – “[t]hrough interweaving, music becomes not just atmospheric underscore, but… a voice and character in its own right” (ConcertTheatre) – which, watching the performance, I wondered why this hadn’t really been done before on any large scale. The actors interacted with the music, the music interacted with the actors, but it all seemed to flow incredibly logically. At times, particularly in the controversial and touchingly frank Abortive by Churchill, the piano was even used as a physical obstacle to show the wedge born between an almost lifeless married couple.
Basically, I would recommend this to any-one, any-pair, any-group who just wants to see something that is both moving and uplifting in a homely and comfortable environment. Oh, and the bar’s good, too.
Performed at the Blue Elephant Theatre.