Home Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 31st January, 2018
Seemingly inspired by the story of the resolute orchestra who continued to play even as the Titanic sank around them, Grand Finale is a spectacular piece of physical theatre which mixes the sultry hopelessness of despair with the feverish energy of joyous fun.
The on-stage cast is large, with ten dancers and six musicians performing at the same time. The six-piece orchestra deliver a sorrowful and melancholy outpouring as their exquisite evening wear is humiliated by the presence of life jackets that serve to act as an unwelcome reminder of their impending deaths. And though the dancers initially appear to be enjoying themselves, the pleasure never lasts: each one is repeatedly dragged off stage like a lifeless corpse before bounding back in to join the fun once again.
The lighting effects in Grand Finale are stunning and are arguably the main reason why this is so good. With a permanent haze of theatrical fog in the room, solitary spotlights are used to focus attention on one thing, and then quickly take it away. Characters step in and out of the darkness like sinister villains lurking in the shadows. Even the orchestra gets involved, suddenly uprooting itself and moving into a completely new position, all under the cover of darkness. The stage in Theatre 1 at Home is already quite deep compared to other performance platforms but the carefully rationed lighting effects of Grand Finale made it almost seem endless, as if the back wall has just melted away into a distant void of immeasurable darkness.
Other than the performers fluttering in and out of focus, the on-stage spectacle is completed by the presence of huge mobile screens. Painted in black, these imposing structures have the appearance of giant stones, like some kind of mobile Stonehenge – they seem to menace both the dancers on the stage as well as the audience below them, presenting an alarming threat in the shape of irrational fear that they may topple over. Strangely, these giant, featureless monoliths seem to develop a character of their own as they are slowly pushed around, exuding a kind of unwelcome presence that frustrates yet also intrigues.
Layered on top of all of this is a wonderfully creative soundtrack. Before the performance started the audience were given a set of ear plugs along with a polite warning that it would be quite loud and that some may find it uncomfortable. I would strongly advise that you don’t wear the ear plugs. It’s not really that loud at all: these are deep, primordial basses that rise up through your seat and reverberate up and down your spine; these are crystal clear high frequencies that sparkle and tingle around your ear lobes as they pull levers and flick switches in your brain. This is a masterful piece of auditory mixing: traditional classical instruments paired seamlessly with the outputs of very modern synthesizers.
Grand Finale is slightly directionless given the lack of plot and spoken word, but that’s not what matters. This is a sensory treat, a performance that engages the brain in a different and much more challenging way. It will probably mean different things to different people and induce differing emotions, but ultimately this is a stunning piece of exhibitionism, a rare chance to see world class performance artistry.
|Visual pleasure||Everything revolved around the lighting, or more importantly the lack of it. The visual mood was a sinister one, the net effect of the visual presentation was to force the most vivid and productive parts of the imagination into action, just to make sense of the shapes and forms continually appearing and disappearing.||5|
|Auditory pleasure||Stunningly good music. A seemingly strange blend of instrumental folk, trance-like electronica, drum and bass, traditional classical music – yet it all came together and worked as a single piece of music.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||No plot, no spoken words, just wave after wave of intense dancing. The interval was slightly frustrating, it seemed to break the flow and as a result the second half was somehow a bit disappointing, despite probably being technically as good as the first.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Near-perfect dancing performances from all those involved, an incredible achievement given the pace and tempo of proceedings. Everyone seemed so well synchronised with each other.||5|
|Overall impact||A truly awe-inspiring piece of physical theatre. Stunning performances from both the dancers and the musicians, all coupled with clever visual effects that set the imagination racing.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|