HOME Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 21st October, 2020
Exactly what is this Covid-19 pandemic doing to us all, does anyone know when our collective and individualised suffering will end? And how do you even go about just documenting all that has happened, how can anybody hope to make sense of it all?
With the first anniversary looming depressingly on our horizons, a way of life built from the yields of hi-tech science and engineering has had its limits conspicuously and almost embarrassingly exposed. So surely this then is the perfect moment for the maligned arts world to emphatically barge its way forward and prove its ability to deliver some much-needed coping mechanisms?
RashDash Theatre’s Lockdown Album aims to do exactly that. Crafted from a variety of disparate global voices, the chronicled experiences of ordinary people are the building blocks of content which has been interpreted and transformed into just over an hour’s worth of original and deeply atmospheric musical material.
What happens on stage takes the notion a little further. Don’t Go Back To Sleep: The Lockdown Album is undoubtedly a musical performance. It’s a gig (and a good one), rather than anything conventional with a plot / characters – yet there seems to be enough added to classify it as a theatrical experience rather than as a concert.
The visual spectacle is dominated by a giant screen. The words of the various content contributors are projected onto it. We hear actual audio samples of what they’re saying, in their own accents. These get mixed directly into the songs themselves, as well as also serving to bridge the moments between them.
There is a definite sense of cathartic reassurance in hearing voices from around the world telling of their own experiences. It truly helps to contextualise a lot of what has happened and also serves to succinctly summarise the UK experience – namely that our leader boasted about willingly snorting the virus and nearly got himself killed in doing so.
That’s about all we’ve got to say for ourselves really.
And has there ever been any other theatrical content that has presented itself as being so emphatically relatable to every single member of the audience? We’re all sat there with our masks on, socially distanced, our 2020 lives are fully dominated by the virus and suddenly here is a performance that is reaching out from the stage in order to push a few, private buttons in our minds; a show delivering juicy content that seems to tickle a few sore points, soothe a few jangling nerves.
The musical content is quite varied, there are some uptempo electronic pieces with heavy bass that sets the room shaking in a pleasing manner, but the truly influential connection seems to be an emotional one and it lies specifically in the ambient folky pieces.
Throughout the show all three performers are delivering together, in unison and in harmony. Yet somehow, by the end, musical individuality seems to be the lingering memory – there is a mysterious vibe of strong, female solo performance – Agnes Obel, Ane Brun, Laura Marling – a deeply evocative musical expressionism born of low-key melodies and intangible emotional mystery.
There has to be something in that – the notion that three performers are delivering together on stage yet the audience sees and experiences them almost individually. A few of the ordinary voices that are heard speak of the need to think about yourself more, about the individual and what has become of it. We’re all conscious of our own selves now and those that are around us, our lives depend on staying distanced, staying individual, is this why we’re “seeing” individuals so much more distinctly?
Right now there is nobody out there solving the Covid-19 crisis, there doesn’t even seem to be anyone capable of explaining it. If there is a voice of reason it’s not being heard. Instead all we have is a terrible shit-storm on social media, one involving even presidents and prime ministers, who, rather conspicuously, have nothing else to offer.
Suddenly then a show like Don’t Go Back To Sleep: The Lockdown Album emerges – an expression of feeling, is this a glimmering flicker of insight? It undoubtedly is a performance that refocuses the traumas we’ve all been through: with our families, with our friends; all the tiny little things we once used to enjoy and the unbelievable sadness of having to consider the possibility that, in your lifetime, you may never do those simple things again.
Don’t Go Back To Sleep: The Lockdown Album is a very strongly musically-oriented fluctuation from recent RashDash outputs. But it definitely feels like theatre: there’s surely no way that e.g. a TV documentary of amassed responses to Covid-19 would carry anything like the weight that this does being rendered as it is through live musical and visual performance.
There’s no way that even a screened filming of the stage show would carry as much weight as the live experience does – this is an experience, you do need to be there and feel it in person, only because being there in person has for too long now been something that none of us have been allowed to do.