Written for the Financial Times
With Static, Dan Rebellato has creating a blistering meditation on the nature of love, grief and the importance of compilation tapes. Sarah's husband Chris has died of an unexpected brain haemorrhage. Chris was an obsessive music lover, record collector and, until losing his hearing in a car accident, a music journalist. He started a magazine at school with the slogan: “Music isn't just music, music is also everything else.” Going through his possessions Sarah comes across a compilation tape with her name on it and becomes obsessed with trying to unlock its meaning.
The play is a collaboration between Suspect Culture and Graeae. It is a fascinating pairing; Suspect Culture create primarily visual and sonic experimental theatre, while Graeae work with both blind and deaf performers, always incorporating sign-language and audio-description into their work. The pay-off here is a brilliantly intricate performance style that plays with what information is given to audiences – some lines are delivered only in sign-language and others only spoken. The production has its rough edges, but is ultimately ferociously powerful.
This is also a play with a damn fine soundtrack – from a Mozart Agnus Dei to a Rufus Wainwright cover of the same, with plenty ranging from The Smiths to Bob Dylan in between. The narrative is similarly interspersed with descriptions of impossible dream concerts that could have never taken place – Nirvana at Glastonbury '08, for example – recalling rock's own track-record with mortality.
The play brilliantly reminds us about how much it is possible to care about music, about lyrics, and how perfectly songs sometimes sum up the world. At one point Sarah describes a Manic Street Preachers gig: “Richey Edwards smashed up his guitar at the end of You Love Us,” she recalls, “Chris squeezed my hand and said sometimes only clichés will do.” This perfectly encapsulates the way the play operates. Engaging with pop's iconoclasm allows Static's massive themes to take flight. Rebellato's writing offers poetic passages that suggest he'd be no mean lyricist himself, while elsewhere crackles with excellent jokes about pop-culture. Despite being chokingly sad, the play offers a final redemptive message of hope, strung together from song titles: “Somewhere there is a place for us / It's impossible / And / It's all true.”