Writer & Director: Kyla Goodey
Musical director: Vicky Abbott
Composers: Justin Lee Radford, Vicky Abbott & Sam Jago Coleman
Reviewer: Phil Goodwin
In an alternate galaxy not so far away, 90’s nobodies N:dless are making another comeback complete with glowsticks and head torches.
The four-piece synth kings have been playing acid house, techno and drum ‘n’ bass-infused Goa trance longer than anyone cares or remembers. But even a toe-curling rendition of their stand-out track, Shame, at the Cardiff Big Weekend fails to strike rock bottom in a career distinguished by heroic failure. The nadir finally arrives with a humiliating second place in Eurovision: a teeth-shattering choreography fail which sees them pipped by a cheesy quartet of Bucks Fizz clones dressed as air stewards. There is no coming back from this; the fissures which began to form between Dean Rehman’s fiercely driven keyboard playing band leader Malcolm and the others have widened into a chasm. Only a final, humbling return to where it all started and a battle of the bands in the back of beyond can heal the painful scars.
The mockumentary genre is a tough gig but this energetic stage show charts the difficult terrain with humour, energy and some brilliantly awful songs. Spinal Tap set the comedic bar ridiculously high – somewhere around 11 – partly because the world of heavy rock was so utterly ludicrous in reality. The rave scene and its cartoonish characters appear similarly ripe for the picking and Trifle Gathering Productions serves up a similar cocktail of absurdity and naivety.
A functional set – steel rigging, soundproof foam, keyboards, and light boxes – allows the cast to move seamlessly from the rehearsal room to stage and TV studio. Lukewarm praise via video-links from fellow musicians, such as Chumbawumba, Basement Jaxx and Graham Jones from Haircut 100, adds to the sense of unreality and underachievement. Shifts back and forth in time, from the early days of the drone-influenced pioneers Drunken Wasps to the awkwardness and recriminations of middle-aged reunions, are handled smoothly.
In a nod to the bed-hopping antics of Fleetwood Mac, the Joe Carey’s saxophonist-turned-backing singer, Dave, betrays co-founder Malcolm by stealing his girlfriend, Mary Woodvine’s Sarey, a jittery bundle of nerves who we first spot as a top-hatted feminist folk singer bossing festival audiences. Malcom’s younger half-sister, Eggy, appears to be the only member with any musical nous – something she reinforces with the smart decision to abandon the project for a smallholding in Scotland. It is her love for banging house that drives the band towards the uncomfortable niche that is folktronica.
But it is together that the band – and the show – really shines, particularly when the fab four are visited by the muse and are inspired to improvise some of the most dim-witted lyrics in pop history. The explosive Debt-a-Nation is divined from newspaper headlines but the pinnacle of their songwriting comes with the peerless Ripe for the Restroom, a song so deep, or perhaps meaningless, that it seems no-one, not least the creators, can explain. Anyone who has ever tried to come up with a name for a band will recognise the moment when ideas flirt with genius only to be cast aside as junk. But they will also remember the courage it can take to reveal your thoughts, which adds a touching aspect.
This production plays to a small audience, who have made it to the 175-seat Drum on a quiet Tuesday night opening; a problem for a production requiring the illusion of crowds at a gig. The cast makes a heartfelt plea at the curtain call for us to spread the word so that they can fill the theatre by the weekend. You feel the show will work much better with a rowdy full house.
N:dless are a bedroom band who probably should have stayed there, but somehow we love them for making out and giving it a go.
Reviewed on: 30 April 2019 | Image: Contributed