Arts: The profession of violins

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The Independent Culture
A FEW over-sold celebs aside, classical music is regarded as unfashionable in every sense. Even at the market's youth end, most serious music students are notorious for bad haircuts, worse clothes, and let's not even start on social skills. None of the seven amazing string-playing Gogmagogs has actually managed to make music while standing on their heads, but they've overturned long-cherished prejudices about po-faced classical music.

Their latest performance - you couldn't possibly call it a concert - moves properly into the arena of music theatre with the addition of texts pairing up notable writers and composers to create unique, challenging works. In Morphic Fields, the company loom out of the darkness in swimming masks and flippers, cross over the Alice in Wonderland grassy hillock, as they play instruments. As these include two cellos and a double-bass, that's a feat in itself.

As Rupert Sheldrake's amusing text moves from increasingly desperate answering machine messages to baleful pronouncements about birth, Roddy Skeeping passes embryonic, arpeggio-based phrases among the players as something strange is born out of a double-bass case.

The entire evening shines a light on the world of possibilities inherent in the marriage between words and music.

In Fortune Cookies, Orlando Gough sets Caryl Churchill's fragmentary phrases to eerily atmospheric music, his trademark strong pulses interrupted for dramatic effect, the silences filled with the resonances of simple lines such as: "Today, you will be..." - long pause - "frightened."

At the opposite end of the spectrum, former Monty Python composer Neil Innes provides text and score for Zap, an unashamedly silly, surreal satire on TV cliches. Scenes from a medicated soap, a war-zone special report, a cookery demonstration and a cop show in which one of the officers considers the idea of a batik cushion cover, are played with panache but, inescapably, such material has been better handled by the likes of The Day Today, albeit without the accompanying quotes from Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra and a police siren as played by a string septet.

Director Lucy Bailey picks up on the channel hopping idea and intercuts the pieces all evening. This doesn't always pay dividends: the strained, absurdist political satire, Here Comes the Tiger, loses any sting by being split in half.

The finest piece is undoubtedly How to Deal with Being Dumped: a viola player is dumped by his double bass-playing girlfriend and an all-singing, all-playing chorus take us through a self-styled "Step-by-Step Beginner's Requiem in Eight Easy Movements". National Theatre of Brent writer Patrick Barlow and composer Django Bates race through every possible music-theatre style with astonishing concision and dramatic flair. The hilariously sick- making, twee tune Bates writes for the "Offertorium", where the girl boasts about her new life with endless sex in front of her ex-boyfriend, silences the argument that music cannot be witty.

David Benedict

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