Anonymous Society, Some Girls are Bigger Than Others / Young@Heart, Road to Nowhere

Review in Issue 18-1 | Spring 2006

Red plush theatres two nights in a row – heaven! Outside of the festival month of May, Brighton's gloriously gilded and balconied Theatre Royal is more usually host to regional favourites like Aykbourn, so it was great to see the venue take a risk with previous Total Theatre Award winners Anonymous Society (Andrew Wale and Perrin Manzer Allen). Their latest piece of experimental music theatre, fresh from successes at both the Lyric Hammersmith and the Dublin Festival, is a mock-operatic reworking of the songs of Morrissey and Marr. Taking Morrissey's lyrics as the starting point, the piece explores identity and, in particular, emerging male identity. The protagonist is a young man (who may or may not be the young boy we see intermittently on screen), with an older father-figure as his foil, and four women performers who play out a succession of female archetypal figures: mother, muse, temptress, unattainable goddess. Some Girls... is like a pop-up book of 3D delights – less a linear narrative than a surreal succession of dream-like scenarios, with Alice Through the Looking Glass as a stated and upfront influence. The company collaborators encompass an extraordinary diversity of experiences – including producing Mamma Mia, singing in Les Miserables, training with Teatr Pieśń Kozła and playing with the English Chamber Orchestra. In its quirky combination of sung melodrama, a mix of live (string quartet) music and ambient electronics, pictures in the sense of both film and sculptural stage tableaux, and a melting pot of dance rhythms (including a great flamenco number), it fits into an odd-bod contemporary performance club that has emerged in recent years – a group that would include Heiner Goebbels's Hashirigaki and Nigel Charnock's Asylum. It's a whole new musical world out there – exciting stuff!

Young@Heart's Road to Nowhere also takes pop songs as its starting point; in this case, classics from the rock canon – Beatles, Stones, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Radiohead – sung by a choir of semi-professional singers aged between 75 and 95. It's an example of one simple, brilliant theatrical idea exploited to its full potential. The songs are staged immaculately, it starts with what we take to be a concert at an old people's home: there's a stage-within-the-stage and a group of oldsters shuffling on and off chairs as a crooner serenades them. We shift to this 'audience' taking the spotlight, and in subsequent numbers are treated to a deceptively simple and highly effective piece of music theatre. Musical arrangement and physical choreography work wonderfully together, there's an interplay of hero and chorus, and an ever-morphing flocking and de-flocking of this fabulous host of human life as 'onstage' versus ‘offstage', taking the space versus just being there are played out on the Lyric stage. There is, of course, the irony of very old people singing songs like Walk on the Wild Side – but it goes way beyond this. In fact, I found much of the audience's response highly inappropriate, with the guffawing laughter running throughout getting to be very irritating. For me, hearing lyrics that were originally intended to be sung by young people placed in the mouths of octogenarians made those songs more real and meaningful than they had ever been. This classic theatrical trick of displacement, a way of reaching for truthfulness, here works its magic to create a piece of theatre that is simultaneously both wryly funny and heart-breakingly moving.

Presenting Artists
Date Seen
  1. Oct 2005

This article in the magazine

Issue 18-1
p. 27