“And so it has come to our attention that there those of you out there somewhere, who are incapable of comprehending the true meaning of a meltybrain.”
This reviewer must admit that she is part of that contingent.
Opening with the performers, and a giant ghostly mask concealed behind a gauze, Meltybrains? lull their audience into a false sense of security with a solo looped violin piece, lit by a gently shifting lattice of blue light. This does not last for long before they launch into the sensory overload that is ?, their collaboration with visual projection artists, Algorithm.
The audience was clearly made up predominantly of existing fans, and the show is aimed at them. It often felt that it was not possible to comprehend “the true meaning of a meltybrain” from this show alone; a prior knowledge of the artists, their inside jokes and their past work seems necessary to fully grasp the intent and ideas behind the show. Even straining to hear the lyrics to the songs, it is next to impossible to make most of them out due the levels of distortion, intense bass in some tracks, and the high volume throughout. Sitting in row P (about three-quarters of the way back in the auditorium), the volume was such that it made it difficult to listen to the work. The shape, size and nature of the venue does not seem to have been taken into account in mixing the sound for the show.
Added on to this, the lighting design overuses rapid chases and strobe effects which, when combined with the sound and projection, served to create a sensory onslaught that was physically uncomfortable to watch for 100 minutes. Though the designer created some beautiful images at different points during the piece, the overall effect of the design was one of overload.
Algorithm’s visual projections on the giant mask suspended in the centre of the stage were varied, impressive and interesting, moving from displaying an unnerving talking head between tracks to showing clips of Sinead O’Connor, the Cranberries, Gay Byrne, and Glenroe during another. They probably tied in to the themes of the songs, though without hearing the lyrics it is difficult to say.
For the Meltybrains? fans in the audience, this was an excellent gig, their energy throughout and the protracted standing ovation at the end made that obvious, but for anyone who has not followed their work previously it was a somewhat alienating performance. A theatre critic sees a lot of work in many different genres. They are not (or at least should not) be afraid to explore new avenues and expose themselves to work that is very different to other work they may have covered before. In general, they want to like the work they see; they want to be able to write a good review. However, when the sound mixing in a piece makes it almost impossible to decipher any of the lyrics in a piece, the overall lighting and video design is uncomfortable to watch, and any humour and meaning in the piece is directed at people who are already familiar with the work (without mentioning that in the promotion), that is not possible.
? achieves the star rating it does because of the fans’ clear enjoyment of the gig, but for anyone who is not already familiar with Meltybrains?’ work, it is a difficult and exhausting show.
Reviewed on 18 September 2018 | Image: Contributed