Victoria Melody just wants to join in, and in Northern Soul she presents herself as a sharing artist. She has a warm manner about her, and openly chats to the audience and herself in a quirky way that gives her a charming air of eccentricity.
The premise of Northern Soul builds upon this sense of sharing as Melody leads us through the documentation of her endeavours to immerse herself in two distinct, yet marginal worlds: Pigeon Fancying and the cult of Northern Soul. Melody celebrates the social oddities of these cultural institutions with a respectful tenderness that resonates with her own peculiarities as she relates her project-work to personal experiences of growing up as an ostracised figure – unpopular in schools and society, and sidelined to a certain extent at home.
Yet what should be a wonderfully engaging performance fails to sustain for the duration of its running time. Melody is charming and on four occasions during the performance she attempts to document the event by selecting a few audience members to take photos of her. While there are obvious resonances around performance documentation and the preservation of obscure events, these moments are actually the bedrock of her whole show, and it is here that the performance comes alive. I wanted to feel involved this way more often; I wanted to know Melody more. Throughout the performance, as she sipped a drink from a mug, I was left longing that she would more fully embrace this aspect of her performance – the premise of an inclusive seminar for a smaller, intimate audience. To have had the opportunity to sit in-the-round, drinking tea, listening to her talk and share moments from her project, or even learning a little Northern Soul dance, would have been glorious. Instead, in a work that explores those that could potentially be perceived as ostracised from ‘mainstream’ culture, we were left excluded in the dark raked seating of a studio theatre, leaving the performance to become a victim of its own conceit.
Northern Soul does have genuine moments of humour, but in an art-scene where there seems to be an increasing number of documentation-sharing solo shows, there needs to be something to set each apart from those that explore the form so well – artists such as Bobby Baker or Liz Aggis in her wonderful Survival Tactics. Otherwise what you are left with has the danger of becoming tedious and at worst self-indulgent. Melody presents a work that is full of unique potential that will hopefully develop from feeling like a quirky, student-led lecture into a gloriously eccentric immersive seminar.