Theatre N16, London – until 10 June 2017
Music spans generations, connects people through a love of the melody and the beat. It brings The Boy (Aaron Price) and The Girl (Rubie Ozanne) together in LOOP, Alexander Knott’s newly written play that charts a family across the decades. It peppers The Woman’s (Emily Thornton) decision to leave the big smoke behind and it drags The Young Man (James Demaine) back with its incessant, pulsating call. LOOP is a show that connects music and emotion, frames the stories and the lives of this collective. Yet it could do more to integrate songs as an organic part of the storyline.
Knott writes in first person, simple and to the point. The show is a set of diary entries, days in the life of ordinary people with unexceptional tales to tell. The script is relatable because it is unremarkable and grounded, yet packed full of everyday detail that colours the mundane moments of these characters. Knott creates from reality, conversations that everyone has had with their parents, children or loved ones at some point – the first date, the big move, the fallen dream. All the while, a series of tracks peppers the undercurrent of the story, linking and connecting each experience. In order to maximise this effect, there needs to be more composition, more integration of music and plot. LOOP doesn’t feel as if the story is lacking, incomplete and lifeless without its melodic partner. And it should.
What LOOP misses in musical integration however, it picks up with physical movement. Zöe Grain directs a quartet of actors who have a natural fluidity – whether it be a mannerism, a scene change or a dorky youth club dance, each precisely choreographed step adds physicality and personality to the production. The movement seamlessly integrates in a complementary way that the music doesn’t quite achieve. Grain works with the capabilities of each actor, organically enhances their natural style without trying to force a precisely choreographed sequence onto the action. It feels like it naturally enhances Knott’s words, paints a picture that would typically be fulfilled with a set, lighting or a richer text. But movement doesn’t need to necessarily be driving the pace – Grain recognises the art of moving without going, conveying the emotion is staying still and being allowed simply to breathe, to exist, to be.
The stories themselves all resonate in the collective concept of life, seemingly unimportant details that simultaneously connect and differentiate us all. As for engagement, The Woman, Thornton is head and shoulders above the others – every line exudes the need to hear more. Thornton matures her character throughout the show, a vibrant energy that resonates in her delivery regardless of her age.
The others take more time to settle into themselves, but all give similarly credible performances – Price’s awkward, honest Boy is matched by Ozanne’s self-assured and overcompensating Girl, the duo proving stronger as a unit than on their own. The positive influence of the music is found here, bringing people together, fostering realistic love and affection in a way that feels real, imperfect and frustrating.
Demaine’s Young Man is the most intriguing of the characters, frantically driven by the music and addicted to its ever-present call. Knott accentuates the difference between generations in their respective youths and Demaine’s is the closest to home – under pressure to perform, to “make it” now, to be somebody. Being identical is another way of saying having no identity. But Demaine needs more hunger, light and shade in his determination versus his disappointment. His passion should be detrimental and desperate, not uplifting and elevating. This seduction drives him downward, spiralling out of control.
LOOP cycles back round to where it started – a dream to run away and reinvent. Nothing is really new; it’s all recycled from a past life, repackaged and polished up. Thankfully for this show, the sheen doesn’t wear off – Knott and Grain make sure that LOOP remains relevant and well-paced. More performances like Thornton’s, an integrated music design and a more definitive ending will elevate the show to a truly impactful production.