Hymns for Robots – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writers: Charles Craggs, Connor Alexander, Jessie Coller (Noctium Theatre)

Director: Connor Alexander

Reviewer: Nicole Craft

Born, bred, blitzed.

Delia Derbyshire, most famous for her part in the instantly recognisable Doctor Who theme tune, was born and raised in Coventry. A pioneer of her time, her life and work are still being both recognised and (re)discovered. Noctium theatre, a three-piece company who all trained in the city, took on the challenge to provide an ‘impression’ of Delia’s life and, in a sort of homecoming for all involved, bring their efforts to the Belgrade Theatre for local audiences to witness.

Jessie Coller takes on the complicated role of Delia – a character who was clearly something of a, well, character. Arriving on a stage that is simply adorned with reels of tape, projected frequencies and wine glasses, she is slickly dressed in black with her face painted white and moves with an air of grace and confidence; however, her initial few minutes’ worth of acting take a while to adjust to. Overexaggerated expressions, emphasised movements and disjointed action leave us wondering what is in store – and it’s fair to say end up splitting opinions in a marmite-esque fashion – and there are clearly those that don’t go on to settle in to enjoy the nature of the performance. Overall, however, the experience is positive for most and any reservations about how Delia’s story is being told are beaten into submission by a simple, yet effectively warming impression of a relatively unsung talent.

Charles Craggs, as well as taking residence to one side of the stage and being responsible for the live-creation of the sounds throughout the piece, loosely plays the rôle of Delia’s good friend and colleague, Brian Hodgson, mostly providing comedic deadpan voiceover to a pair of glasses used to represent the character. He and Coller work brilliantly together and although what is created isn’t anything hugely spectacular, the perfect execution of the effects juxtaposed with the on-stage actions is enough to further win us over and allow us to become fully immersed in the simple tale being told.

Hymns for Robots is not ground-breaking theatre. Nor, as cast, creatives and Delia’s friends who join them on stage for the post-show discussion alike are keen to emphasise, is it a completely truthful, biographical account of Derbyshire’s life. There are parts that leave you a little baffled, but we mostly leave with a deeper understanding of who Derbyshire was as a person and, as a homage to a pioneer in electronic music – it hits all the right, albeit slightly distorted, notes.

Reviewed on 21 September 2018  | Image: Contributed

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