35mm: A Musical Exhibition
The Other Palace
Reviewed – 20th September 2017
“Oliver’s lyrics have shades of light and dark, but do occasionally feel contrived and exacting”
The concept is fascinating: a series of photographs have inspired songs. Whilst each photograph is deliberately abstract and enigmatic, composer and lyricist Scott Oliver has managed to tease out a narrative from each image, dressing them in human form and creating a varied gallery of vignettes.
The accent is clearly on the music rather than the photographs. Projected onto the back wall during the accompanying songs, they were sometimes lost, sometimes irrelevant and sometimes confusing. But the songs hold the show together, and trying to discover a through line quickly becomes unnecessary as the audience relaxes and enjoys the performances.
The musical arrangements sweep a broad spectrum, encompassing rock, gospel, country, pop, musical comedy amongst other genres. But there is a danger that it becomes too much of a mixed bag. It is at its best when kept simple, giving space to the gorgeous harmonies of the singers. Each of the five cast members are allowed to shine at various points, but nobody attempts to steal the show, always sensitive to the belief that the landscape is more important than the snapshot.
Oliver’s lyrics have shades of light and dark, but do occasionally feel contrived and exacting, and although the melodies too are sometimes overly intricate, the performers rise to the challenge. Stand out moments are Gregor Duncan’s and Samuel Thomas’s duet: “The Seraph”, “Leave Luanne” with its staccato cello arrangement reminiscent of The Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper, and “Mama, Let Me In” whose sparse piano yields to a cross wave of gospel harmonies.
The evening does, however, steer close to indulgence. Like a seventies concept album there is insufficient awareness of the audience and as such one can feel disengaged. I did ask myself ‘who is this for?’ in the same way I would at an installation. This isn’t musical theatre, but then again it probably never set out to be. But it does need something more; visually it remained weak, and budgetary restrictions gave scant justice to the back projections of the photographs. But Adam Lenson’s uncluttered direction uses these restrictions to his advantage, adapting well to the intimacy of the studio space, placing the accomplished six-piece band alongside the audience.
Although the concept is fascinating, it still feels it’s at the conception stage. In parts underdeveloped, but you can make allowances for this, and the accomplished performances make it quite thrilling. For music fans of any genre this is highly recommended.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Nick Brittain Photography
35mm: A MUSICAL EXHIBITION
is at The Other Palace until 30th September 2017