Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Doppler Effect - a mesmerising showcase of The Belfast Ensemble (Lyric Theatre until 8 October)

The Belfast Ensemble put themselves on the artistic map earlier this year with what I described at the time as “their sumptuous and sensual production” of The Habsburg Tragedies in the Lyric Theatre. By combining the talents of a range of creatives, each of whom is at the top of their technical or artistic game, the new group proved in April that they can create multi-sensory performances that are exhilarating, satisfying, rich and very beautiful.

Their new show – The Doppler Effect – continues to thrill. Described on the programme as “an experiment for actors, instruments and lights”, the immersive production turns much of musical theatre on its head. The audience stand or sit around four sides of a gauze cube that cocoons the musical quartet directed by composer Conor Mitchell. Viola, cello and clarinet produce a very mellow sound and the musicians sit on podiums of different heights in corners of the central space.
“Frequency, prevalence, beat, constancy, rhythm, repetition, …”
While the music comes from the centre, the voice booms out from speakers around the perimeter of the theatre, behind the audience. At first Abigail McGibbon speaks only words, then switches to a mesmerising poetic style as she tells the story of a woman’s loss, a missing love and loneliness.

Although actor Francis Mezza is positioned behind the screens, Simon Bird beams down shafts of light on top, superimposing him into Gavin Peden’s video imagery. As the pictures of rush hour traffic and a night club are projected onto all sides of the cube, the simply-clothed male actor moves inside, responding to the monologue, and we gradually realise that there’s another layer of symbolism in this artistic metaphor, and the woman could be a city or a country, and her loss and hope could echo our collective desire to hold onto peace in this land.
“The promise of a cure for the broken city that is stuck in time”
The music switches from pizzicato to chords and double octaves to arpeggios, changing intensity while keeping to the same rhythm over the thirty minute performance.

Any one aspect of this show could hold my attention. I got lost in the music and then the words and then the movement and the imagery. There is a lot going on, but it’s all complementary and well balanced and no particular discipline is allowed to dominate.

Moving around the performance space, you spot silhouettes of the players against the screens. Images bleed through to the other side, creating interesting motifs. Motion changes what is observed as you move around relative to the source. It’s high concept but manages to stay accessible and enjoyable to experience.

The Doppler Effect is genre-busting: musical theatre accompanied by dance, some narrative and some of the best visuals I’ve seen in a theatre. The genius of The Belfast Ensemble is that together the artists produce high quality, imaginative work that is riddled with enough layers of meaning that you are left wanting to hit rewind and go back to the beginning to breathe it all in again.

To have pulled off such a mature and settled show on their opening night is to the credit of the artists involved. For this showcase of local imagination to receive no funding heaps shame upon the vision of arts funding bodies who should expect this work to travel internationally.

You can catch The Doppler Effect in the Lyric Theatre until 8 October with a mixture of evening performances and matinees. It’s a real treat to witness and be part of.

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