In Ryan Scott Oliver’s 35mm: A Musical Exhibition, objects dangle off two huge picture frames hung either side of the stage. Throughout the show, they are plucked as a projection cycles through images, and a song is sung inspired by each. But this ‘framing device’, as it were, lacks texture, and the separate songs hang as loosely off the structure as the objects off the frames.
Katie Pesskin’s production features no spoken words, instead telling its stories through music and lyrics. The central notion is that, true to the old adage, a picture tells a thousand words (or three verses and a chorus). Beyond this minor innovation, however, the revelations of 35mm are negligible.
Themes considered by the songs include love, loss and making theatre, and some humourous if relatively unimaginative lyrics penned by Oliver convey some sense of character (though it’s often hard to unpick how these relate to Matthew Murphy’s photographs). A particularly bizarre segment follows an evangelical slant, and at one point it feels as though the company is trying to convert us to the wonders of Christianity. I’m a firm supporter of exploring form in musical theatre, but once this has played out a few times in 35mm it becomes just as repetitive as any other conceit of musical theatre.
The cast of five carry the music with vigour but don’t ever really capture the imagination after the half-decent ‘Crazytown’ at the top of the show. They aren’t helped by Bloom’s stilted, halting direction which, though understandably confined by a small space, follows patterns just like its source material.
Recent shows such as Chimerica and Facehunters have also explored the ways in which pictures tell stories and reveal identities (the latter of which even does so in musical form), but 35mm doesn’t really add anything to that debate. There are some hummable tunes, but without any context all we get is a glorified, Broadway-sounding concert with a few photos.
35MM: A Musical Exhibition is at Bedlam Theatre until 24 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.