Of all performances in the Connecting Voices series, it feels as though Orpheus in the Record Shop (OITRS) has the most obvious link to the recent pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures. Told from the perspective of a record shop owner suffering economic difficulty, OITRS is essentially a one-man show, with accompaniment by members of the Opera North company and orchestra.
Though billed as “spoken word fused with beatboxing and classical music” this performance is so much more. An engaging and somewhat familiar tale of reinvention, OITRS is part stand up comedy, part concert, part motivational speech.
Testament is a force of nature. He is a gifted actor, holding the substantial audience in the palm of his hand through moments of humour, deep sadness and lively action. He utilises mime well, which keeps his performance space uncluttered and is amusing for an audience when employed with beatboxed sound effects. Testament is fully in control of this production, at times literally acting as orchestral conductor, at times slipping seamlessly between song, rap and spoken word.
Though roots in the Orpheus myth are hinted at, they are never fully explored and this remains at heart a relatable, modern story. Testament’s writing is packed with cracking insults and political commentary. In parts, he assumes additional characters with ease. I found his portrayal of the Ghanaian security guard particularly noteworthy and howled at a stream-of-consciousness song from the perspective of a taxi driver. He is an energetic and extremely versatile performer who commands attention, both to his performance, and the difficult topics covered in the play.
The musicians of Opera North wind their way into the piece one at a time, adding merely strings or woodwind to loop pedal and voice. They are casually dressed which helps to deformalize the concept of orchestral music and fits with the style of the production well. All are accomplished and the addition of this music enhances all emotions in the piece; with swelling crescendos in happy moments, discordant racket in times of despair and a well-placed rendition of the Antiques Roadshow theme tune, displaying just how funny classical music can be when it wants to.
Like many of the Connecting Voices pieces I observe tonight, OITRS explores lost love, struggles with depression and retrospection. Testament describes the difficulties of an existence lived on pause, and with this in mind, I hope that this series marks the beginning of a new era for theatre. If the originality and inventiveness present in OITRS are anything to go by, I think we can expect to see exciting and innovative work from Leeds Playhouse in future.
Connecting Voices is a series of plays staged by Leeds Playhouse in collaboration with Opera North and performers. This project is a response to the events of the last six months and uses new and classic work to celebrate the power of the human voice.
Connecting Voices: Orpheus in the Record Shop was performed between 2 and 17 October 2020 at Leeds Playhouse. For more information, see Leeds Playhouse website.