The Mechanisms

Sat 8th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

William Shaw

at 09:31 on 21st Aug 2015

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Imagine what would happen if David Bowie, Jeff Wayne and Douglas Adams got together and decided to write a musical. Whether or not you'll like this show, a rotating trilogy of one-hour musical pieces re-telling classical mythology as science fiction epics, more or less hinges on whether you think that premise sounds very dumb or like the Best Thing Ever. (The correct answer, obviously, is that it is the Best Thing Ever). Witty, subversive and altogether brilliant, The Mechanisms have put together an absolute barnstormer of an act. You will never see another show like it.

The band plays a crew of bloodthirsty space pirates recounting tales heard on their travels of the universe, resplendent in steampunk costumes and colourful personalities. The songs are powerfully dramatic sci-fi folk, with lead singer Jonny Sims narrating the action, and the rest of the band playing the various different characters.

The narrative itself is a thing of beauty, a swashbuckling affair with a dash of cyberpunk cynicism and a shot of Douglas Adams-ian whimsy (including at least one direct shout-out). The overall effect is riotously entertaining, and the group’s clear passion for their work is transferred to the audience, who were eating out of their hands by the end. This is a weird, difficult show, and the sheer swagger and confidence on display is genuinely awe-inspiring.

There were a few technical faults, perhaps as a result of a venue ill-suited to such an elaborate act. There was a bit of a problem with microphone volume, with lyrics sometimes in danger of being drowned out by the cacophony of the band, which is shame, because the lyrics are as clever and self-assured as the rest of the show, with ancient mythology and science fiction archetypes bleeding together in fascinating ways. Having said that, a few gags wear a bit thin after a while. You can only hear ancient Greek monsters re-imagined as robots so many times before it gets a bit old.

But quite frankly, the flaws are irrelevant, because you have to experience it for the sheer uniqueness alone. Brash, clever and cool as hell, The Mechanisms are an amazing act, and it's astonishing that they're still inclined to let people in for free. This is, quite simply, one of the best shows of the free Fringe.

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Jenny Burton

at 11:01 on 21st Aug 2015

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Trying to accurately define The Mechanisms and what they do is like trying to nail jelly to a tree; it’s impossible as hard as you try, but try you will. As part of the Free Fringe, The Mechanisms offer an hour of punk rock, mythical characters and a science-fiction story – taken straight out of the TV show Firefly – that leaves you exhausted and in need of a nap. Set in the perfectly dingy backroom of Chalky’s nightclub, the gothic atmosphere sets the scene for the wild journey to come.

Compere and singer Jonny Sims transports his audience to a land far away where storytelling and song entwine majestically into a powerful experience. The storyline of Ulysses Dies at Dawn is ludicrous and absurd, but narrated delicately and with passion as it was, we are led through vaults and lands anew to a dramatic deadly conclusion.

The music was truly the highlight of The Mechanisms’ performance. When played brilliantly, as it was by Sam Young, the electric violin cannot be rivalled. Remaining within his evil character even after the attention had been drawn away from him, Young was truly impressive in his role. Ariadne’s (Rachel Hughes) jazz solo, with a voice reminiscent of Amy Winehouse, contrasted perfectly with the booming voice of Hades (Frank Voss) and the more dulcet tones of The Toy Soldier (Jessica Law). Indeed, her softer solo brought a welcome moment of calm and there was not a sound in the room. Although the men were very competent singers, it was the women’s voices that stole the show.

Despite wonderful acoustics, the visual performance could have been somewhat slicker. Wires becoming unplugged, messy changeovers and the background rattle of musical instruments knocking each other were slightly distracting. The professional level of the music was impressive, but the organisation left something to be desired.

It may be hard to believe that this bawdy gang of space pirates singing about epic battles and Elysian Fields in a nightclub during the day would be impressive, but impressive it is. If mythical sci-fi, banjos or Nathan Fillion do it for you, then this is a must-see show.

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