Rajni Shah Projects
Part of the SPILL Festival of Performance
Silk Street Theatre, Barbican
A smooth and soporific voice introduces the show and the first hint of doubt already creeps in. The voice points out a few things - this is the beginning; we are, in fact, here; the curtain is opening; yes, we are wondering how the show starts; it starts like this. The microphone is turned up so high to pick up her soft and quiet voice that we can hear the saliva crackling in the speaker's mouth. Oh dear, it's not going to be one of those shows, is it?
Yes it is. Glorious, part of the SPILL Festival at the Barbican, sounds interesting on paper, but watching it is anything but. The Rajni Shah project is different wherever it goes, using stories from local people and collecting letters from strangers to create the show. For the Barbican production, students from Guildhall School of Music & Drama have helped to 'reimagine' the music. The experimental concept certainly fits with the SPILL Festival's ethos, but lacks the any of the energy or spontaneity that the blurb implies.
Six people read letters about their lives in London - short passages giving simple descriptions and anecdotes - and between each we have a song from the solitary singer in the centre of the stage. In her low, tremulous vibrato and accompanied by a piano, she sings in a monotonal, legato drone about feeling 'the act of unbecoming' and 'the embers of beginning' as well as 'windows falling from the sky' and other such things that don't make a lot of sense.
That's Act One. It's unimpressive, nonsensical and rather dull. So for Act Two, they do it all over again.
Of course it isn't exactly the same. The stories have additions, though only one is entirely new, and there are now musicians in addition to the pianist. However, the songs are all the same. Although the Guildhall musicians add some nice orchestrations and harmonies to the songs, you can't escape the fact that they are the same words and the same monotonal tunes. The same windows falling from the sky, the same acts of unbecoming. Having endured the first forty-five minutes of the show, you then have to endure it all over again.
Act Three is a little better on the account of it being shorter. The musicians leave two or three at a time, the storytellers repeat only the first few lines of their stories before leaving too. The show ends with a second reprise of the song 'Glorious'. Although this song does have more of a tune than the others, the endless repetitions of 'It is glorious' does drill into your head somewhat.
What does this show tell us? That different people live in London? That some stories don't end? Whatever it's trying to say, the repetitions and obscure symbolism doesn't manage to convey it. The performers lay daffodils at the front of the stage, then pick them up; the singer's dress gets built up until she looks like her own miniature mountain in the middle of the stage, but the point of it is lost. Despite the many protestations that 'it is glorious', it really isn't.
Reviewer: Emma Berge