A band enters on stage to informally welcome its audience. After taking their places, and a moment to hold the space, they launch into the first song that marks the beginning of Fragment. Written by John Hogarth with music from Dom Coyote, it is the latest piece of gig-theatre to arrive at the Battersea Arts Centre.
A trio of musicians mark the edges of the stage to curate the story of Lester Fall, played by Tony Bell. Weaving in and out of the world formed in the middle by their boundary, Milly Oldfield and Rebecca Tebbett become characters in his story before returning to their stations to join Coyote in the musical sections that follow.
Coyote’s vocal performance is powerful and gripping; especially when supported by Oldfield and Tebbett. Sadly, the instrumentals underpinning this coalescence of voices soon become monotonous. Apart from a single electronic section, familiar strumming patterns and similar structured harmonies dilute the impact. Whilst enjoyable and every-so-often evocative, for a piece of gig-theatre, this feels underdeveloped.
Aurally, the production presents a considered and intricate sonic landscape. Beyond the music, simple sounds and vocal effects create and shift spaces near seamlessly, bar occasional technical difficulties.
Physically however, the bodies in space fail to match the aural elements of the piece, leaving the staging static and literal. Simultaneously, the vocal delivery is sometimes seemingly saccharine; afraid of silence and lacking nuance. There is a disconnect between what is heard and what is seen.
Fragment’s treatment of its main character is confusing. A substantial part of Lester’s speech is spent showing disdain on a heightened note. In repetition it quickly becomes grating, establishing a predictable redemption arc. Through liberal use of this note, the moments that truly call for it are weakened.
Attempting to teach a lesson that remains ambiguous at the end, the text tends to sway towards preaching. Obvious in its sentiment, the negotiation between stating intention and working with subtext needs honing.
In its storytelling, Fragment manages to touchingly capture moments of muted intimacy that line the beginning of a romance. Staging a lover’s gaze, it is instantly recognisable. Relying on familiarity, both in its plot and characters, the piece creates instant connections through modern British archetypes. Suggesting certain assumptions, Fragment fosters these to the brink of stereotypes, before challenging and breaking them.
Following a heavily repetitive structure, the ending comes hurriedly. Character development just happens, and everything is supposedly neatly tied up. Given the build-up preceding this, it feels odd and insufficient.
When considering a word to sum up the piece, I landed on sweet. It is enjoyable enough to get lost in the flux of sentiment and music, only if you’re willing to overlook the predictable and oversimplified bitterness underneath.
Fragment played Battersea Arts Centre until 15 May
Photo: Dom Coyote