Is it a play? Is it a gig? No – it’s some kind of hybrid live music story-telling experience brought to you by nabokov and director Joe Murphy! Symphony is a collaboration with three of Britain’s most successful young writers, Ella Hickson, Nick Payne and Tom Wells, and musician Ed Gaughan of London Snorkelling Team. The show is in fact three short plays interwoven with Gaughan’s indie party soundtrack each playfully dealing with love, loss, London and ‘lad-iators’.
As soon as you enter the venue four performers are already onstage tuning up and jamming out; you’re not sure if this is a cast or a band but either way they seem to be having a good time which makes it pretty easy for the audience to settle in for the evening. But before you know it the lights are bright and the amps are blaring, and I for one am glad of having picked up a pair of ear plugs at the bar as the music fills the cabaret space of Soho Downstairs.
Into the first play (or should it be ‘movement’ of this three part symphony?) Jonesy by Tom Wells, the underdog story of an asthmatic teen who dreams of making a name for himself as a ‘Netball Maverick’ and earning the respect of the ‘lads’ from GCSE PE. Iddon Jones is the first protagonist of the evening, setting him up as the sort of front man of this four-piece, and he sets the standard high. He gives a striking performance of the hopefully hopeless teen, charming and energetic even when faced with failure. There is a self-awareness in the writing which encourages the audience to believe in its absurdity, aided by the music that is interwoven into the story-telling itself.
The other two plays don’t pack quite the punch of their predecessor; particularly as they both deal with more similar and familiar subject matter. Ella Hickson’s offering, A Love Song For The People Of London, tries to poke fun at the tropes of the ironically moustachioed geek boy (Liam Gerrard) who falls for the manic pixie dream girl (Katie Elin-Salt) he watches on the bus each morning. The writing doesn’t really have enough time to pick these ideas apart which unfortunately leaves the criticism underdeveloped; however it’s clear Gerrard and Elin-Salt are in on the joke as their performances bring a knowing humour to the fore.
The final play is Nick Payne’s My Thoughts On Leaving You. It is your typical boy meets girl (on the piss-soaked floor of a men’s room), girl falls in love with boy (against her better judgement), boy cheats on girl (with stranger who inevitably knows girl) boy tries to win back girl (with a rock ballad, obviously). Jack Brown has been providing excellent secondary character comedic work in the previous two pieces, so it’s rewarding to see him step into centre stage. What holds this play back is that the music is less entwined with the writing and more separated into a traditional song format, which feels a little safe. Although we are treated to a bolshie bluesy number from Elin-Salt, that stirs up a lot of love from the crowd, it feels like some of the unique quality of this theatre-gig format has been lost.
As the final chords ring in your ears it hard to deny that this has been an enjoyable hour. The multi-instrumental performers have continually impressed with their skills, the crowd have been amused by the well-timed comedy of each piece as well as plenty of ad hoc interactions, and there’s even been a bit of cheering and clapping along. Although there are still a few kinks in the form, it is exciting and perhaps most importantly it doesn’t feel pretentious. This show has been around for a few years now and don’t be surprised if it carries on plugging in for a few more.
Symphony is playing Downstairs at the Soho Theatre until 7 December. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.