Think of A Song
(The Old Theatre Royal, Wednesday May 31st )
This radical musical art-piece is genuinely like nothing else out there – but the reaction it garnered often felt more like endured discomfort than transcendental affirmation.
The concept behind this experimental show by singer-songwriter Brian Madigan (AKA a Band named Brian) was unique and inventive, but extremely risky: an entire concert of music but… without the music. Each song is extensively spoken about by Brian in relation to his own experiences, his instrument tuned and adjusted in preparation. But instead of the song itself the audience gets… silence. A silence only occasionally broken by the faint tapping of Brian’s feet as he “thinks out” the song. The aim was for the audience to “think it out” with him, engaging with our imaginations and, as Brian alludes to in his spoken interludes, to live in the “Here and Now”.
However, because these aims were never made clear to the rather bemused audience in the Old Theatre Royal (other than in mostly unread flyers), and because these arduously long periods of silence made up a large chunk of the hour-long show, the idea ran out of steam very quickly and, if the reaction of those around me were anything to go by, the audience were left feeling a little… uncomfortable.
Now, I must point out that this is not necessarily a bad thing. The show was an experiment, and a brave one at that. Making an audience uncomfortable or pushing the boundaries of what “performance” means is a key asset to artistic vitality and redefinition.
But if the reaction Brian wanted was one of joy and transcendence, then more was needed. Audience participation could have been the key to unlocking the audience’s hearts here: why not use the humour of the bizarre situation, making us hold up lighters to the silent music, sway to the “beat”, or start a silent call-and-response? Warm people to an idea with a bit of fun, and they will reward you with engaged minds.
I give this advice for improvement only because I believe this show has the potential to be outstanding.
And there certainly was much to praise here already. The spoken interludes themselves were an insightful and raw look into Brian’s own history, touching on lessons learnt from his varied life and the numerous characters that have inhabited it.
The final moments of the show, in which everything came to a sudden loud crescendo, was also a thrilling end. Paul Bradley, Brian’s (non-silent!) support act, must get particular praise also. His entirely improvised style of guitar-playing and singing, encompassing an unbelievable variety of sounds, beats and rhythms, was at once haunting, wistful and beautiful. Bradley is undeniably a unique musician, and one of incredible calibre.
But for the show to engage large audiences and avoid the uncomfortable nature of the prolonged silences, more must be done in preparation and a wider variety found within the confines of “silent music”. There is no point in asking an audience to simply “use our imaginations”: we can do that very easily at home. Give us reasons to engage. Then we will respond with the full capacity of our minds.
***1/2 – 3.5 Stars
Review by Jonny Pert