Originally written for Exeunt.
What do we expect when we go to a gig? When we read a love poem? When we see a play? These expectations are not necessarily divergent, but it is in their congruency that nabakov have plucked at an interesting set of pre-conceptions surrounding the depiction of relationships and honesty; where songs and poetry romanticise and idolise, theatre often deconstructs and lays bare. Here they intermingle, as a cast of five play, sing and rhyme their way through tales of romance, growing up and the need to ultimately take ourselves a little less seriously in love.
Tom Wells’ story of Jamie Jones is a young Welsh boy’s bid for GCSE PE glory (or a passing grade, that will do), fuelled by one too many viewings of Cool Runnings and an ever attendant asthma inhaler. Though far from being his most sophisticated piece, Wells always handles the tale of the underdog with a gentle humour but, in living out his own movie complete with montages and signalled emotional flashbacks, Jamie becomes more caricaturish than personable with rather Laurel & Hardy-like gusto. Aptly lampooning the ridiculousness of lad culture and the arbitrary nature in which teenagers designate things as ‘gay’ – books and netball being flamboyantly homosexual in the context of Jamie’s peers – there is a sadness here that is never quite mined, beneath the slapstick. Perhaps sadder still that it is easier for Jamie to be in on the joke than facing the brunt of it.
Ella Hickson and Nick Payne’s pieces blend together rather beautifully as tales of love and missed opportunity in London, allowing Symphony’s gig-play format free rein and the city to take shape as an ever present character in the narratives. Here, the joyously mundane details of falling in love and being in a relationship are irreverently lyricised, with a well-observed wit that every now and again hits very close to home. Meeting on the bathroom floor of a night club, having a make-or-break argument while a mariachi band plays cheerfully in the background, failing to chat up the girl on the bus – this is not the stuff of dash to the airport Hollywood declarations but is all the more tender for its realisation that pathetic fallacy doesn’t arrive at key moments, that love makes us ridiculous… and that, actually, that’s alright.
In subtly upending the idea that it is the world’s job to bring us together and that the lyrics with which we normally soundtrack our lives have much bearing on the reality of our interactions, Symphony is a refreshing and measured look at modern relationships and how we frame them through music. It is hard to say what is being nailed with the format here, but incorporating music and the characters’ internal monologue into the performed narrative and deformalizing the idea that one must break out of it to break into song allows for the silliness of actuality to have its place, and there is something ineffably tender about being sung a love song by London itself – a more ever present partner than some of us are ever likely to find.