Thursday was the first night of Project Brand New 5 and I was looking forward to another three nights of brand new theatre. As ever, the upstairs foyer was buzzing with people when I arrived, the comment curtains were ready for feedback and the bar was doing great business!
The first piece of the night was called Calle O’Reilly. It was Afro-Cuban music, enhanced with a live video performance. The musicians were already playing when the audience entered the theatre. Lots of percussion and a bit of bass. Eventually the crowd were all inside and settled in and the piece began.
The musicians and singers performed in darkness and there were light-displays projected onto each performer. These were tribal masks, the kind that remind me of a totem pole, with exploring fireworks of light coming out of their heads! The fireworks were linked to the sounds each performer was making, so it would only happen when the drummer banged the drum and it was in time to the music. There was also a video of drawings of Cuba on the screen behind.
It was a really great opener; it looked and sounded great, it wasn’t too taxing to watch and it made me feel like we were in for a good night!
My only small criticism was that because we couldn’t see the singers faces, it felt like it could have been a recording. Some of the specialness of live music was lost for me because of that.
The second piece was You Will Never Be Seen Again and came with a warning that it started with six minutes of darkness, so we wouldn’t be concerned by that. The darkness came with a voice-over telling us about something that happened to them. These voice-overs (from about three different people) were the main part of the piece. They were all about relationships – relationships gone bad mostly. They were very raw; they felt like real interviews played in all their flawed glory. While the voice-overs were going on (and after the lights came up on stage), there was a single performer onstage performing a movement piece. It didn’t seem connected to the text and it didn’t really do much for me. I liked it better when we were sitting in the dark, just listening to the voices.
The third piece, Short Message Service was very much a work in process. It was more a presentation than a performance. The two artists, Helena O’Connor and Leslie Cullinan are creating a performance based around text messages. They explained where this idea came from and how they had been exploring it. They also said that they found they couldn’t use their own texts because they had a history attached and they found it impossible to see them outside that context. Instead they were looking from texts from strangers and giving out their phone number all over the place. And they would come back on Saturday with the resulting performance.
It was a genuinely enjoyable presentation. They managed to be funny and informative and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final piece on Saturday. They also had a wall of post-its outside in the foyer with all their texts on them. They were brilliant – tiny little snippets of information, a peek into someone else’s life.
The fourth piece was called Body Response System and it was as technical as that sounds. It involved a “motion-sensing interface that triggers musical responses” and a dancer that moved around inside this interface. There was also a saxophone player who responded to the music created by the movement. It was an interesting idea and I’m sure a lot of went into it but it wasn’t all that interesting to watch. The developer, Maria Coleman, did say at the beginning that she created it because she wanted to make something that audience had to phyiscally engague with, not just be a spectator. Possibly I just didn’t experience it properly.
The last performance Delicious O’Grady, was the highlight of the night for me. It was a one-man show about the famine. By then the audience was a little bit giddy and after three intervals, possibly a bit drunk. Luckily it was a tragicomedy that leaned heavily towards the comedy; it was very very funny. It was five short scenes (one was a little animation on the big screen) set during the famine.
It was very visual and great fun. Colm O’Grady had a great rapoture with the audience. There was a bit of audience participation, and a very silly scene with an Irish school master. It also had a fantastic ending!
I think the piece we saw in the Project was a short section from a much longer show, and the whole show will be performed at the Cathedral Quarter Festival in Belfast on May 5th. Definitely worth going to see if you’re in the area.
This was only the first night of goodies, I have two more nights of magic to recap!