Nabokov - Symphony - Photo Richard Davenport

nabokov: Symphony by Ella Hickson, Nick Payne and Tom Wells

Nabokov - Symphony - Photo Richard DavenportIt’s not often that you walk into a music gig headlining a playwright. Or three. Although if you ask me, I would bet my bottom dollar most successful theatre people were at one point or another wannabe rock stars. Often they simply took that energy and transferred it into the language of theatre, never again getting the chance to brandish their electric guitars, drum sticks, or microphones, but here is finally a welcome exception. A band of three writers (Tom Wells, Ella Hickson, Nick Payne), a composer (ED Gaughan), a director (Joe Murphy), and four excellent multi-skilled multi-tasking actors (Jack Brown, Katie Elin-Salt, Liam Gerrard and Iddon Jones) showing us just how much great ensemble work owes to music itself.

The set consists of three stories, mostly underscored and interspersed with narrative-driven songs, deftly woven together into a single piece which coheres around its symphonic throughlines rather than a single theme as such. Though if a theme does emerge, it has a lot to do with overcoming loneliness. In the first story, a fifteen year old asthmatic boy Jonesy resolves to overcome his isolation by becoming a sporting hero; in story number two an awkward Londoner loses a fellow commuter he secretly fancies to another guy; while the finale is a classic will-they-won’t-they get it together love story conceived in the loo of a nightclub. This sort of narrative range also provides scope for similarly broad musical display covering anything from humorous ditties and silly dance numbers to heart-rending power ballads. The obvious showcasing is probably the only thing detracting from the show’s genuine brilliance. But the show as a whole is truly thrilling, its inner magic achieved through the notion of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

I will not search for musical references that might entice you to see this show. Suffice it to say that the rhythm section grips you from the start and never lets go – even when the band members begin to rotate their way through the various instruments on stage. If you love theatre and have ever had a band you loved, this is a show for you.

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About Duška Radosavljević

Duška Radosavljević is a dramaturg, writer and lecturer in Drama and Theatre Studies at the University of Kent. She is the author of Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century (2013) and editor of The Contemporary Ensemble: Interviews with Theatre-Makers (2013). She also writes for The Stage newspaper and Exeunt magazine.