Al Bowlly's Croon Manifesto

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Xandra Burns

at 10:01 on 24th Aug 2011

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Knowing nothing about Al Bowlly except that he was a crooner - and this only because of the show’s title - I took my seat unsure about the play’s accessibility, but my doubts diminished and eventually disappeared due to the light-hearted nature of the play’s structure, Jake Oldershaw’s incredible singing voice, and fun interactive moments with the audience.

As audience members enter the space, Jake Oldershaw (who plays Al Bowlly) prepares Nick Tigg (who plays “everyone else”) for a shave. The scene is normal enough (if we can accept that any character played by Tigg, who is both bald and clean shaven, has reason to be in the barber’s shop), but the actors drop toying hints of self-awareness, placing the show’s medium somewhere between play and narrated concert. Through acknowledgement of their surroundings, the performers overcome and take advantage of any limitations that come with a small and intimate space.

At first, sudden shifts between dialogue and narration disconcert - the world of the play is a strange compelling blend of nonsensical storytelling and biography, a deliberate choice that makes sense when explained in the program note: the play is meant to be as “fast and loose” as Al Bowlly himself, who “was never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Once this style is understood, it is effective.

Oldershaw’s voice is spectacular and mesmerizing, providing reason to engage in Bowlly’s story even without prior knowledge of the artist as a historical figure. Tigg’s performance as “everyone else” is so convincing that I was surprised to see only two actors credited when I glanced at the playbill afterwards.

The actors welcome and invite audience members to participate in the performance, helped along the way by volunteer swing dancers placed in the audience and a functioning video camera that projects live footage of the actors and audience members onto the stage. The two actors use the entire venue, weaving in between audience members and labeling them as characters in the story. They embrace the risky challenge of audience interaction in such a way that its success is not at all reliant on the audience’s willingness to cooperate; instead the performers ease the guests into the experience, allowing them to participate at their levels of comfort, resulting in relaxed and effective cooperation.

The show itself is 70 minutes long, followed by 50 optional minutes of song and dance. The unfortunate part of my experience was that I attended alone with the obligation to criticize. I would recommend going with a group of friends, prepared to relax, enjoy, and become immersed in Al Bowlly’s world.

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