17 July 2019

24 Italian Songs and Arias by Brian Lobel

Diana is Dead by FK Alexander

I saw three kinds of music today and they were all pretending to be something else. I can’t help but hear the echoes of the musical theatre performers in the vibrato of the opera singers, the deluge of sound from the resonant arias in the constant noise of FK & her punk drummer.

There was lots of applause.

I have been trying to think about how to make a show about an iconic female figure with the problem of casting - I don’t know whether it’s a one woman show with one icon, or a show about multiplicity with too many icons. FK modelled one of these for me.

Brian is more gentle. He doesn’t suggest answers, he lets the stories unfold from the markers that are up there. Everything in this show has already happened, every element has been primed from the props already onstage. The failures are in the past, Brian refuses to relive us for them. The fabric is pre-rolled and hung from the rig. The songs have been practiced. The CVs pre-loaded on the TV. The choir planted in the audience. I noticed one boy sitting alone on the end of the row when I came in, and my brain noted that it was weird without doing anything with the information. Now, there’s a payoff for that at the end.

I check Anna’s face beside me for when the first VHS smashes. She’s entranced, mouth open with joy whenever one explodes particularly well. I remember the calls of ‘brava’ from the first show, echoed with cheers for moments like this, now.

The multitude of Dianas. FK is grotesque, blue eyeshadow, ghoulish grin, dripping apple pulp. The others are facsimiles - skirt suits with cardboard Diana masks, more accurate but somehow further. Anna calls FK ‘corpse bride’.

She brushes back a line of broken tapes: something about it, the hush, the shifting edge, the rhythmic sweep - I can hear the sea.

They were both bigger shows than I thought. Both more generous in how they shared the space. I read more names in the freesheet than I was expecting, but somehow didn’t guess they were all performing at once. The bigger casts feel inclusive, exciting. There often isn’t money in this work to pull those people out as a surprise prop.

In the musical today, I thought one character who appeared at the climax was played by a female actor who hadn’t yet appeared in the show. It felt audacious - it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, hold back a whole live performing body until you think you’ve seen the measure of that work. It’s something I’ve predicted too early in other shows I’ve seen. In the curtain call, I realised that she was just wearing a wig.

Also - I heard Naomi warming up in The Yard toilets beforehand, and I wish I hadn’t. At the moment she begins to sing from her place beside the piano, betray her previous part as the page-turner, I can appreciate what that was supposed to be, and I’m a little sad that I miss it.

The bit where Lobel tells Brian-stand-in tenor-soloist Joseph Marchant that one day he’ll be a failure, before he and Naomi duet on a piece, either side of their singing careers. His voice is sweet, hesitant. We time travel, and see Brian there.

I appreciate the honesty of that piece. The caricature of using that word isn’t lost on me, but I love hearing from those people. How Naomi’s movement from choir member to soloist is echoed in her place in the piece. How Gwenneth’s pieces get more emotive.

When Lobel takes a moment to sing the final trill in his piece, the one he failed many years prior, (and presumably has sung every night this week at The Yard), just when you feel that the piece has become about him in the resolve, pulling him back to main character, bringing you to communal momentous close - then he looks up to the audience and nods us in with a smile for a final sweet semi-breve.

The words ‘good enough’ are studded throughout. Abbastanza brava.