views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Soho Theatre
12th November 2014


Publicity image for Symphony

Photography supplied by the Soho Theatre

Life is bold, loud and unexpected. This has to be the inspiration behind Nabokov Theatre's show Symphony, which fuses traditional acting along with a live gig. The result is a chaotic and exuberant explosion of sight and sound, with music by Ed Gaughan. Symphony isn't your ordinary piece of theatre; the four performers are highly talented musicians and dart from behind instrument to instrument alternating between different characters and being part of the band. Initially dressed in boiler suits, it's hard to pick out who's doing what, but over the course of the hour, they lose the uniforms, take on different personalities and share some very funny and sweet stories with us.

Tom Wells' Jonesy opens the night; a tale of a school boy (Iddon Jones) determined to get his GCSE in PE, but held back by his asthma. He says goodbye to his rugby teacher (Liam Gerrard) and career on the field and instead signs up for netball classes. Not the most blokey thing to do - at least where 15-year-olds are concerned - but Jonesy has his eyes on the prize and he'll do anything to win it. It's an underdog story, delivered with humour and charm, and it's certainly a lovely way to kick off the night and understand what Nabakov are all about, but it doesn't necessary complement the other two tales which follow.

Ella Hickson's A Love Song for the People of London charts a boy (Gerrard) who falls in love with a commuter (Katie Elin-Salt). Again, there's not a lot to the story, but it's a perfectly plausible scenario - just open the Metro and look at the Rush Hour Crush section. It happens. It's followed up with Nick Payne's My Thoughts On Leaving You, another romantic comedy, in which a couple (Jack Brown and Elin-Salt) come together and fall apart. After losing his girlfriend, the man tries to win her back by showing up with his band, in a misguided attempt to serenade her. This is my favourite piece, but going from the pitch to a nightclub is a little disorientating, and you do wonder if you've missed something.

Publicity image for Symphony

Photography supplied by the Soho Theatre

And perhaps you have, because Symphony is incredibly loud. There are some well-intentioned but ineffective earplugs offered at the bar - the last time I was offered ear protection for a show was at the O2 - a slightly grander size venue. Complaining about the sound makes me feel at least two decades older than I actually am, but it does thankfully settle down eventually, allowing us to hear a bit more of what the performers are saying, and to relax into the production a bit more.

Director Joe Murphy has the unenviable task of trying to balance the different elements to Symphony, and whilst he doesn't quite get it right, there's no denying is a pleasingly unusual beast, and one worth seeing. The four performers can sing, they can act and they can play multiple instruments - clearly overachievers, but you can't hate them for it. They're all warm, thoroughly likeable and they are in large responsible for what is an excellent night out. The writing may be disposable but sometimes that doesn't really matter when there's enough skill in the performance.

Despite having had a few runs before - including up in Edinburgh - Symphony still feels a little rough around the edges. It's not perfect, but if there's one thing I can say with overwhelming certainty, it's a lot of fun. Minor niggles aside, this production is a great fit for the Soho Theatre, and it's an unusual take on drama. It's not a play, it's not a musical - it's something more powerful and energetic and a format I think I'd like to see more of.

Symphony opened on 8th November and runs until 7th December 2014 at the Soho Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Tottenham Court Road (Northern, Central)

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