Brighton Fringe 2018

The Fabulous Bäckström Brothers

The Fabulous Bäckström Brothers

Genre: Absurd Theatre, Clown, Comedic, Comedy, Live Music, Mime, Opera and Operatic Theatre, Physical Comedy, Theatre

Venue: The Old Market

Festival:


Low Down

Baritone Jouni Bäckström has invited his brother tenor Petri to spend some quality time cruising across America, as only opera-singing brothers can, on the famous Route 66. But Petri has other ideas – in order to rehearse his big role as Wagner’s Siegfried, he has brought his pianist Jukka Nykänen with him, who is also working on his new opera, The God Particle.

Review

Jukka Nykänen appeared in black tails and he’s applaud as you would a conductor as he introduces the show as a being a history of particle physics with a polytonal Leitmotif tradition like Wagner. The whole thing is laden with pretension. As Joni and Petri are introduced it’s noticeable that although they are dressed like classical musicians, their shoes are not polished, which gives away their status as actors!

As Petri has to practise his Siegfried the brothers take their accompanist along with then on their road trip down Route 66. From then on we enter a three-pronged storyline focussing on the brother’s road trip, Jukka’s particle physics opera and scenes from Wagner’s Siegfried.

And it’s a real delight when they start to sing – and they really can sing! Particularly when Petri (aka ‘Positron’) holds a note for a ridiculously long time while singing along to The Bangles’ Eternal Flame on car radio. But the comedy isn’t far behind when they don ludicrous black and white stretchy jumpsuits and perform a mini-ballet.

Central on the stage was a piano and this formed the fulcrum that much of the show pivoted around – standing in as a car, a stage screen and even dressed up as the dragon Fafner, with Jukka as the tail. The brothers also skilfully accompany Jukka playing Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring with percussion cups on top of the piano.

‘Wagner’ then appears (played by Jouni aka ‘Electron’) and we begin the first of several scenes from Seifgried played by Petri. There are great prop effects throughout, such as Seigfried’s sword with red LED lights to show when it’s being forged to make it look hot, along with accompanying steam.

There’s a kung-fu mime sequence that fell a tad flat, with the clowning looking a tad ‘staged’ as they mime to a martial arts soundtrack – mostly because this has been done to death in so many productions (both on stage and screen) before. But stand-out moments include a wonderfully eccentric quarks dance routine; the Ride of the Valkyries leitmotif played on three melodeons; and the ridiculous scene of Siegfried casting his eyes on a woman, Brunhilde (played by an audience volunteer), for the first time, asking “Is it a horse?” Generally the level of clowning and dance routines is superb throughout, particularly in a sequence when they pretend to be birds and one perches on Seigfried’s finger.

Eventually the two brothers AntiMatter (Positron) and Matter (Electron) reconcile their differences and come together and the three central plot threads remain strong throughout, perfectly melding at the end.

The three Finns have great comic timing and considering this was their first time performing in English it was truly excellent. Spymonkey’s direction (by Toby Park and Aitor Basauri) is felt throughout, with the familiar beginnings of pomposity slowly descending into clowning chaos and the merging of these two theatrical groups is perfect. Ultimately a very funny and delightfully bonkers show, enhanced by the brothers’ wonderful singing and the standing ovation at the end confirmed this. 

It’s not quite 100% there yet (there’s a hint of trepidation of the actors not performing in their native tongue) but once the very minor kinks are ironed out we have no doubt that this show is destined to become a classic.

Published