Composer and Directer: Verity Standen
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
From the moment the three performers emerge from the shadows into a dim spotlight singing in crystal clear harmony, there’s something hypnotic about Mmm Hmmm. Composer and director Verity Standen has crafted a piece that seems to inhabit a blank space between worlds – the kind of black spot where you might end up trapped outside a dream.
Blending a cappella song and movement Standen and her fellow performers, Ellie Showering and Jannah Warlow. work their way through such mundane tasks as entering a PIN and buying a snack on the train from the buffet car. Their voices combine perfectly with purity, control, and most impressively stamina, even when they’re jumping around stage or each have a mouthful of biscuits.
It’s not always clear whether we’re witnessing a moving, breathing art installation or something into which we should be reading a deeper meaning. Themes of loneliness and isolation surface, as do ideas on the way we communicate. The meaning of words is called into question too, while at times it seems like there’s something much darker lurking in the shadows, with James Mackenzie’s sparse, door frame lighting offering us a glimpse into a busy, somewhat fractured mind.
Although all three make it look so easy that they could carry on all night, Standen is wise to keep the running time to just under 40 minutes. Any longer and it might start to lose some of its immediacy.
Mmm Hmmm is at its most effective when shining a light on the banality of routine, reminding us how repetitive life can be unless we do something to change it, and demonstrating how it might be slightly less frustrating if it was all happening in three part harmony.
Runs until 23 January 2016 | Image:Paul Blakemore