Brighton Festival 2019
A musical composition in nine movements inspired by the ideas of a theoretical physicist, an orchestra of disabled and non-disabled musicians a vast range of instruments plus four athletic dancers. Plopped bang in the middle of an audience in a confined space. What could possibly go wrong?
In Charles Hazelwood’s hugely enjoyable and ambitious production, first seen at Mayfest, Bristol in 2018, sound and movement, speech, light and people come together with the force of magnets. Composer Will Gregory has long been obsessed with Richard Feynman, the theoretical physicist who, much like a toddler at the difficult twos, insists on answering questions with the word ‘why?’ So the audience is encouraged from the start to be curious and seek things out, to be aware of others, to question and probe. Ushers lead us onto the stage, placing us between the orchestra and the upstage percussion, under dangling microphones and delicate lights then leave us to immerse ourselves as we fancy. There are people without sight in the company and audience, wheelchair users likewise, some people have the show audio described and there’s captioning if that’s necessary for you. We’re free to move, stand or sit, listen and watch, whichever suits us best. There is an easy going groove both to the music and the general vibe, a feeling that we’re in it together. Let’s get started.
The core orchestra, the non-disabled Generals, dressed in white, play on a podium and the disabled players are on stage amongst us. Dancers weave between legs, sinuously sliding and dipping, stretching limbs in unity with each other and with everything else going on around them. They have innate spacial awareness and whilst you can see choreographic patterns and motifs that follow musical lines, much is improvised in order to move through the space and interact with players and spectators.
Recordings of Feynman punctuate the show and boy how he makes you stop and listen. “Aunt Minny slipped on some ice and ended up in hospital. Why? You can’t fully explain that scenario without discussing the fundamentals of fluid dynamics.” Or “You can’t explain why magnets behave the way they do to a layperson without first explaining the concept of electromagnetic forces to them.”
Director/choreographer Caroline Bowditch, with the rest of the creative team, uses dance and music to explore these ideas. Dancers join then splinter in pairs and groups. A huddle of interconnecting bodies twitches then rests. Hands are extended to the audience, an invitation to become part of this journey. The excellent sound design sends the voices of two soprano singers soaring above us. The score is Meredith Monk style, pics and pocs in sprightly rhythms and beats that get the feet bopping. The musicians are beautifully incorporated with an anthropomorphised cello and some rock guitar postering from the wonderfully named Dom Coyote. How strong the music would be without the dance, the audience and the setting I’m not sure, but it provides just the right amount of syncopation and variety to suit its purpose.
The lack of any hierarchy between roles is so refreshing, they switch and share and integrate seamlessly and most importantly, are having fun. The audience, a couple of bewildered children aside, seems properly immersed. Art, like magnets, can attract or repel. The Nature of Why has aligned its forces in the right direction; it’s a joyful, inclusive hour and a real Festival treat.