Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Songs From The shows!

[Lemsip-fuelled madness]

I sometimes joke that I get out so little the only place I hear new music is in the theatre. This is of course nonsense, I just need to stop listening to Radio 3. And you never really hear new music in the theatre anyway. Nevertheless, here’s my countdown (alphabetically) of my favourite tunes from this year’s theatre!

Clapton, Erich von – Let it Grow, from Warum Läuft Herr R. Amok?

I should have banged on more about just how good and how revolutionary Susanne Kennedy’s production of Warum Läuft Herr R. Amok? was in my Best of 2015, but banging on about it here will do. The play follows Herr R. while he has an abiding fixation with a song he’s heard on the radio. He goes into a record shop, asks colleagues, and tunelessly sings a meaningless refrain from the song with – in this production – no real notes at all. Snippets of the song get played until Herr R. has a full-on breakdown and murders his wife and children, at which point the song gets played in its entirety while an old woman dances on stage. It remains perhaps the most theatrically revelatory thing I saw last year, though not because of this. Still, uhrwurm-city for weeks after.

DAF – Der Mussolini, from Die Unverheiratete

Also at Theatertreffen, and probably my favourite stage design of the year, Robert Borgmann’s production of Eward Palmetstoffer’s The Unmarried was superlative in many ways, but few moments beat the bit where the action of the text was broken off for a re-recorded version of this German electro-punk classic from 1981, playing loud under flashing lights chucking of bits of set around. Basically the other half (see previous song) of what we go to Germany for.

Fall, The – Blindness, from Stewart Lee’s A Room With A Stew

Slightly cheating, since it’s play-in/pre-show music, not technically theatre, and possibly only from the Leicester Square gigs, not the Edinburgh ones. But still, seeing and reviewing Stewart Lee’s show in Edinburgh seemed to do Postcards’s reader numbers no end of good (write about things people have heard of and there’s a ready-made audience! Who knew?). And led to my getting to interview him for Exeunt in October, which was nice. The other reason to include a song by The Fall is that they’re probably one of the best bands to ever come out of Manchester, and moving to Manchester in March this year still feels like one of the other best things I did this year.

Hawkwind – Master of the Universe, from The Angry Brigade

Ok, so I haven’t really explained the rules of this game, have I? Basically, it’s my favourite songs/music that were used in theatre productions that I saw this year. In theory I didn’t really get on all that well with The Angry Brigade at the time – although I did like the bit when they played this. That said, it’s worth saying that, along with the other political pieces I mentioned in my Best of 2015 round-up, a lot of the facts and ideas in Angry Brigade really stayed with me. It strikes me that there’s maybe another examination of this to be made by theatre and soon. Maybe by Breach Theatre next time...

Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills, from La Mélancholie des Dragons

So far I’ve been doing a fine job of writing these little commentaries while listening to the songs. That is not possible here. Phillip Quesne’s La Mélancholie des Dragons was a remarkable, tender, fragile, brilliant, beautiful piece of theatre which played in Manchester for all of about three nights thanks to Walter Meierjohann’s remarkable good taste in international imports. The opening of this delicate thing was four blokes listening to heavy metal in a car (on stage) for about ten minutes. This was one of the songs. (The fact it’s a violent dual perspective narrative of British soldiers slaughtering Native Americans didn’t seem to impact on the play.)

New Order – Age of Consent, from The Shrine of Everyday Things

It’s funny, writing this list. Shrine of Everyday Things was *such* a good show. Should probably have been included in Best of 2015 too. It was a kind of site-specific promenade piece around an old estate in Manchester, just by Contact Theatre, which is going to be knocked down (the estate, not Contact). As we walked to the estate we listened to people who had lived there’s memories of the place. This song came on just as we walked into the estate itself, and it really did feel like we’d been shifted back in time. Utterly beautiful.
[Edit: And, Christ! What a video on YouTube! Not the version they used, but great.]

Purcell, Henry – Music For a While, from Adieu

The whole first half(-ish) of Adieu consisted of solo performer Jonathan Capdevielle standing alone on a sparsely lit stage singing snatches of Madonna songs into a microphone. Pretty much note perfectly, but still, it was eerie, disorientating – there would also be long pauses – and almost daring the audience to leave. As the thing mutated and started to cohere into something, at some point he also sang most of this. Also unaccompanied. Also beautifully. And it was somehow the most wrenching, ghostly thing imaginable. And then it segued into Hung Up or even Music. Most arresting use of music award right there.

Ukrainian National Anthem, from Maidan Diaries

Eagle-eyed observers amongst you will have noticed that I go to Eastern Europe more than the average theatre critic. And those of you who know me will know I have a bit of a sentimental spot for a fair few Eastern European National Anthems.

It’s easy to forget, what with all the fun going on in Syria right now, that there’s also still an unresolved war in Ukraine. A war that is so incendiary to European peace that many Eastern European friends were predicting that we’d be at war with Russia by Christmas. Instead, we seem to be fighting a proxy war with Russia through the medium of Syria on the pretext of ISIS, which literally no one understands, least of all the civilian population in Syria. Meanwhile, Ukraine seems to have been split in two, and no one even remembers what the protest in Maidan Square (literally Square Square?) was about anyway.

Anyway, yes, the Ukrainian National Anthem was sung in this piece of verbatim theatre about the Maidan Square protests, and was very moving, even if, at the time, I didn’t know the words or what they meant. Fans of Eastern European National Anthems will spot the similarities to the Polish National Anthem, and consequently Israel’s and Yugoslavia’s. Fans of logic will notice that despite the assertion that their enemies will vanish like dew in the sunlight, there is subsequently a lot of talk of sacrifice. :-/

Bonus track:

Chameleons Vox – Singing Rule Britannia, from (cheating) the Chameleons Live at the Manchester Academy II, 18/12/15

It’s odd, isn’t it? Going to a gig shouldn’t feel quite as alien as it does, but, hell, I’m nearly 40 and I never much liked standing up all night anyway. Still, if you live in Manchester, you have to go to gigs; it’s the rules. And there seem to be more, and more reasonably priced, and more local, and more Relevant To Your Interests. But, yeah, went to this last Friday and it was just amazing. Pretty much all my favourite songs played back-to-back for an hour and a half. Brilliant atmosphere. The nicest audience. Just lovely.

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