fri 19/10/2018

Problem in Brighton, Brighton Festival review - comic but patchy rock show | reviews, news & interviews

Problem in Brighton, Brighton Festival review - comic but patchy rock show

Problem in Brighton, Brighton Festival review - comic but patchy rock show

David Shrigley's 'fun musical event' succeeds about half the time

A problem indeed...

Problem is Brighton is down in the Festival programme as an “alt-rock/pop pantomime”, with actors involved and the inference it’s some sort of musical featuring “instruments specially created by David Shrigley for the performance”. This turns out to be seriously over-selling it. In fact, Problem in Brighton is a rock band put together to play an hour of songs created in league with the maverick artist and Festival Guest Director. Putting any expectations aside, it’s a patchy show.

The band – four men, two women – initially arrive on stage one by one, in regulation black cowboy shirts with white piping, lining up, side by side, po-faced, riffing. The guitars are also black-and-white, designed by Shrigley, with varying quantities of strings. They start in what will be their default setting throughout, Krautrock garage rock akin to The Fall. Two of them – keyboard-player Craig Warnock and drummer Ben Townsend – soon return to their own instruments. At the front, singing and performing, are Scottish actress Pauline Knowles and German actor Stephan Kreiss, both deadpan but the latter given to persuasively underplayed clowning.

Shrigley’s sensibilities are naturally to the fore in all the lyrics

The set has no narrative arc or general concept, the word "problem" written large behind them apparently an irrelevance. The songs are akin to musical versions of David Shrigley’s one-frame images, using surrealism, dry observation, mundanity and juxtaposition to create an often humorous effect. At first it doesn’t really work, although the venue is spotted with Brighton’s self-regarding bearderati who guffaw knowingly, keenly hip to every abstruse gag. As dryly smart songs about shoes, dancing and digging holes go by, it initially reminds of film director Wes Anderson’s least likeable work, in that it’s self-consciously kooky but to no particular end other than its own smug smarts.

However, it moves up a gear with a very funny song wherein Kreiss bemoans his mother’s attempt to join the band. It has a great sing-along chorus and is the evening’s most immediate number. Shrigley’s sensibilities are naturally to the fore in all the lyrics, especially in a song that keeps saying “Hey, huge man”. He has a wry way with a line. A ballad, sung by Knowles, is about a guest, possibly after a party, seeking a bed. “Don’t sleep in the entrance hall, there’s a drunk sleeping there, and it’s a fire risk,” she intones.

There are a couple of props brought on to entertaining effect, such as the exhaust pipe used as a didgeridoo (main picture), some projected images and film of Shrigley’s work, and entertaining digs at the Tories and the Queen. Sensibly, for something so lightly conceived, it does not outstay its welcome.

The musicians and actors deliver the whole thing well. They’re tight. But, in the end, possibly due to prep time issues, possibly for other reasons, there’s a sense that Shrigley bit off more than he could chew; that when it came to creating his “alt-rock/pop pantomime” (with moshpit!), he actually dialled it back to something else entirely.

Overleaf: watch a trailer for Problem in Brighton

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