Ovalhouse – St Mark’s Church
Reviewed – 5th June 2018
“The combined noise created by these nine individuals is spine chilling and hypnotic”
Stepping into the enclaves of St. Mark’s Church, Kennington, things are a little irregular. Gone are the rows and rows of seats or pews that you would expect to see. In their place, is a circular cluster of stools scattered randomly, with freestanding naked light bulbs dotted here and there, in between. Certainly not like any religious service I have ever been to. But then again, this is not a congregation to worship God. This is a congregation of worship to performance. Bristol based Verity Standen brings her magnificent new a cappella composition, Undersong, to life, with the help of eight other singers, demonstrating with skilful, innovative, technique, the power of (surround) sound. The combined noise created by these nine individuals is spine chilling and hypnotic – a vocal symphony that leaves you wanting more.
To Standen’s own admittance, this piece is hard to define. It is between being part concert, part performance art, and part theatrical experience. As much as it is about the harmonic voices of the singers, who weave through the audience, generating an intense literal wall of sound, it is also about the movement. Their bodies are as much a part of the composition as their voices. Whether it is the positioning of their bodies, which determines how a certain sound is heard, or a physical gag (a line up of undulating tongues is a particular highlight) there is just as much to take in visually as there is aurally. A great deal is to be gained either from closing your eyes and zoning into the sound, or being entranced by the choreographed spectacle of the piece.
The ambiguity of the song cycle is refreshing. Nothing feels imposed nor forced. The performers generously invite you to be a part of this organically atmospheric event where you’re allowed to draw your own conclusions as to what the waves of sound represent. Each ‘song’ offers a new emotional response, which by the end, leaves you feeling practically worn out. With its unique location and soundscapes, Undersong is a piece that can only be truly appreciated once fully experienced.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Ovalhouse until 9th June