“God bless this country, God bless karaoke and God save the Queen.”
We all love right-wing politics and karaoke right? It may be this strange and somewhat confusing collaboration of apparent fascism and Japanese social rituals that have made Albion such a mixed bag when it comes to criticism.
Walking into the warm pub atmosphere is pleasant. It takes you a while to see how well the stage has been set up; full of regulars and classic pub music, (we are of course referring to Come On Eileen By Dexy’s Midnight Runners) it t feels like a proper night out. We are introduced to the evening by Jason (Tony Clay), brother of the landlord Paul (Steve John Shepherd), whose rendition of Hey Ya’ by Andre 3000 is a real treat. The main difference between this and someone singing in a musical is that this man isn’t a singer, but his pure enjoyment of what he is doing is catchy and as you watch him dance around the stage, you can’t help but feel like you could watch a show based around people simply singing karaoke (© The Metropolist!).
Albion consists of songs from the last thirty years which reflect multi-culturalism in modern Britain – where far right anger is bubbling over into racism and retaliation. Songs like Seven Nation Army and the Macarena are used partly as dialogue and partly as a backing track to the pressures of coping with internal and external influences. There are characters that are as torn as they are in the EPA (think UKIP or BNP) but are also black or gay, adding social stigmas to their involvement. On occasion this works very well, with the notable uses of It’s Raining Men sung powerfully over news clips of riots and protest marches around the UK and Total Eclipse of the Heart framing a very sad moment.
Steve John Shepherd has a fantastic tone for anger, and when he vents that bile he is so full of – while you may not agree with what’s being said – the rage is enthralling. However his singing voice is a bit disappointing; even though it’s authentic it can be quite jarring on occasion, especially during a rendition of Eye of the Tiger.
Christine played by Natalie Casey with an amazing talent for dead-pan humor, pushes the story forward with her transition from incompetent social worker to dominant political candidate. The sense of reality surrounding this development is uncommon for such a surreal piece where time shifts and we recall events. What makes Casey stand out in this instance is her insistence on singing in her own voice. Whether it fits the song or not, she makes it work for her.
Albion is a brave piece and playwright Chris Thompson has created a different genre that we are calling New Wave Musical as it has the framework of a musical but makes the inclusion of songs feel real and somewhat natural rather than pausing the action. It ‘s understandable that this play has received mixed reviews as it doesn’t quite have its full identity yet, but this is the start of something new and exciting in theatre. It may not be perfect but it’s definitely the first step.
[IMAGES: ©Richard Davenport] Albion, Bush Theatre Productions