Classical: Meltdown Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Gogmagogs Gigagain Bridewell Theatre, London
Thursday 26 June 1997
Could things get any stranger, I thought. Well, there was Anderson's "Tape Bow Quartet", where four ladies each drew a length of recorded tape (in place of bow hair) across a tape-head (in place of strings). Fragments of speech spat and spluttered while the quartet swayed this way or that. Then there was The Sea (for John Cage), where Simon Wills conducted a fragment of the second violin line from the first movement of Debussy's La Mer, measuring the missing bars in his head and conducting them as meaningful silences. A Dummy Duet had Laurie Anderson working a mini "dummy fiddler" on one side of the stage, while a horribly macabre larger dummy - operated by two figures veiled in black - played on the other. The concert closed with Pete Cooper, Roger Wilson and Joe Townsend, joined by the "Celtic grunge" Ashley MacIsaac, stamping the boards for a Highland fling.
Pitting Anderson's curious tales against "the Gogmagogs Gigagain" at the Bridewell Theatre the following night - presented as part of the City of London Festival - contrasted what seemed like works in progress with genuine finished artistry. Lucy Bailey directed seven young string players in a dozen or so brilliant "music and movement" sketches, starting in darkness with performers and instruments heaped on the floor, then gradually "Getting Up" (Said Murad's title) for joyful "Greetings" (also by Murad). Jane Gardner's The Wildlife trilogy featured illuminated bows imitating tropical fish, extraordinary "monsters" with instruments as heads and a ghostly "Night Choir". There was a hilarious Cable Street Blues by Mike Westbrook where the septet reacted - physically as well as musically - to the suggestive flickerings on an imagined film screen; and then, a little later, John Tavener held us captive with his mystically distended Petra. It was miracle enough that the Gogmagogs could play their instruments from contorted positions, but that their movements, gestures, facial expressions, group timing and, most crucially, musical skills were so expertly balanced - all, plus much, much more - marked them as exceptional artists. "Gigagain" included some of the most entertaining music theatre I've seen in years.
Meltdown continues at the Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 to 5 July (0171- 960 4242)
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