Melodic Dystrophy

Tue 13th – Sat 24th August 2013

reviews

Ben Williams

at 05:01 on 18th Aug 2013

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Queen Mary Theatre Company’s production of ‘Melodic Dystrophy’ promised to explore one man’s experience with muscular dystrophy through the use of puppetry and Edgar Allen Poe poetry set to a 'post-rock' soundtrack. Whilst this may sound like a train wreck of show, it defied all expectations, and was not only relatively successful but also rather moving.

Indeed, the use of puppets throughout the piece was frankly inspired. The puppets themselves more closely resemble model skeletons than they do people, and require at least three people to operate fully. Whilst this may seem a little excessive, I soon came to realise that it was precisely this effort which managed to replicate the idea of a character walking, climbing, and falling with supreme accuracy. In fact, it was this factor which provided the show’s main point of success. The characters became so realistic that the audience was able to take them seriously, while also appreciating the rather ethereal quality that the puppets themselves provided.

This illusion was further reinforced by some exceptional acting. Jack Noble as the leading role of Benedict Leon managed to produce such compelling monologues that the audience could not help but fall for, and sympathise greatly with his character. The cast worked best, however, during ensemble passages, delivering the humorous moments of light relief in a slick manner which so cleverly offset the otherwise harrowing storyline.

Some aspects of the performance could perhaps have been exploited more effectively. The music, for example, definitely provided a certain atmospheric quality, but did little to occupy the audience during the rather staid scene changes. The production also employed a series of projected images onto a screen at the back of the stage. These came across as overly simplistic, to the point that they appeared lazy, when they could have provided another visual level to the performance.

The show’s only major flaw was that of its plotline. Although the dialogue’s pacing was certainly effective, particularly during the press conference scenes, the overall plot arc was somewhat unimaginative and predictable. However, the show’s positive attributes more than made up for this in providing both dramatic and visual interest.

For me, this show should come highly recommended. It is different, certainly, but it is this unique charm which makes it so moving, impressive, and well worth a visit.

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Emma-Jane Manion

at 10:02 on 18th Aug 2013

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My heart sank reading the summary for ‘Melodic Dystrophy’. The decay of human body in the face of degenerative illness, expressed through the medium of puppets, 'post-rock' and the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. I expected to see painfully pretentious physical theatre with a man booming out Poe’s poetry in the background. I was still expecting this on entering the theatre to find the cast, all in black, laid on the floor with a skeletal puppet in the middle.

On the contrary, the play reads like a bad TV movie. At one point a character says with absolute earnest: “Ben, you’re trapped in a cage of your own guilt”. It also has a startlingly pedestrian plotline. Ben, who is diagnosed with a terminal illness, is told by his doctor and friend to live the rest of his life as fully as possible. A famous actor, Ben must cope with filming a TV series on Edgar Allan Poe, the pressures of dealing with the press, and regrets regarding his affair with the now deceased actress, Annabelle. Oh, why did he go to that awards ceremony instead of being at her side during her illness?! This is a Mills and Boon novel, without the fun and innuendo.

This play is so desperately mediocre that its use of puppets cannot even rescue it. The potential for the puppetry to be interesting is wasted on a cast who appear to use it to hide their own poor acting. It is pointless way of illustrating of story. I can understand how the puppets could be used to show the fragility of the human body when it suffers from a degenerative disease, but directors Hannah Maxwell and Choy Wai Wan, fail to use them to do so. Moreover, there is the bizarre use of sock puppets in the press conference scene. Once more, I understood how this could have been used very effectively, but it seemed incongruous with the serious tone of the rest of the piece.

The ending should be dramatic, but is underwhelming. I am, by now, too distracted and disengaged from the character. Ben's suffering from muscular dystrophy seems all too swift. We barely even register his illness. All that is apparent is Ben is very breathy and always sighing, as well as being a bit tired.

I was ultimately dissatisfied by ‘Melodic Dystrophy’, which felt like a wasted opportunity to do something more interesting with the tools at its disposal.

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