Writers: Ella Hickson, Nick Payne, Tom Wells
Director: Joe Murphy
Reviewer: Alex Ramon
Pitched between play and gig, yet not quite offering the satisfactions of either, nabokov’s three- parter Symphony combines music and story-telling in a brisk, fitfully exciting but ultimately not entirely successful one hour package. First seen in 2012, and subsequently a hit at the Edinburgh Festival, the show now returns to London following its run at The Vaults, Waterloo earlier this year.
The concept of the piece is as follows: around music composed by Ed Gaughan, three playwrights have fashioned a trio of mini-dramas, all seemingly linked by a cheeky, critical approach to Hollywood-movie tropes and traditions. Tom Wells’s “Jonesy” rugby-tackles the clichés of underdog sports movies, as its protagonist – a small-town GCSE student with asthma – finds himself on the netball team; Ella Hickson’s “A Love Song For The People Of London” usurps a meet-cute scenario involving two lonely commuters; and Nick Payne’s “My Thoughts On Leaving You” also has rom com conventions in its sights, focusing on the coming together and the falling apart of a couple who meet in a nightclub loo.
Symphony is at its most beguiling when at its rowdiest, with its multi-tasking quartet of actor- musicians – Jack Brown, Liam Gerrard, Iddon Jones and Katie Elin-Salt – bashing out some gorgeously loud rock riffs on a variety of instruments. (In a perhaps overly-cautious move, the venue is providing ear-plugs for those in need.) The intimacy of the Soho Downstairs space certainly ensures that the performers’ energy communicates, but the problem with the show is the relative weakness of some of the material and the fact that, for the most part, the mix of story and song feels imperfectly achieved. Wells’s work here is particularly threadbare, despite Jones’s manic efforts in the lead, and Gaughan’s music doesn’t have quite enough variety to compensate for the deficiencies of the writing.
The other two contributions integrate music more persuasively, even if Payne’s piece has something of the blokey archness of his wildly over-praised Constellations in its tone (and a performance from Brown that’s pretty much a Rafe Spall pastiche). The most endearing of the evening’s offerings, for me, is Hickson’s “Love Song…,” with its entertaining personification of the city, its bitter twist offset by a touching benediction, and its genuine attempts to integrate musical rhythms into the dialogue and development of the drama. But, despite some pleasing, fun touches and enticing moments, overall Symphony proves to be a nice idea that falters in execution.
Runs until 7th December.