Composer and Director: Verity Standen
Reviewer: Claire Hayes
Mmm Hmmm was a word-of-mouth hit when performed in Bristol’s Tobacco Factory last year, and for those who missed Verity Standen’s a capella song theatre, the show’s visit to Theatre Shop’s inaugural season in Clevedon provides a welcome opportunity to catch up.
This really is a genre-defying piece, combining three stunning female voices: Standen herself in collaboration with Ellie Showering and Dominie Hooper. Their vocals harmonise closely before breaking apart, sharing words and syllables one at a time as though playing a story-telling game whose ending can only be guessed at. There is sheer power here but also subtlety; perfect timing but also the courage to exploit the breaks between songs, creating what might be silence but for the deliberately raw sounds of breathing as the trio recover for what is yet to come.
Mmm Hmmm has no real narrative but offers a series of vignettes of modern life: very British apologies for minor public infringements and a Gregorian chant encompassing a litany of malaises – an incorrectly-typed password, the swiping of a Nectar card, a debit card declined. The limitations of the First Great Western buffet car and its garbled tannoy announcements resonate. There is a tribute to lost love too, which, of course, demands the eating of biscuits and portrays the comically alarming outcome – especially for the audience in the front row – of singing with your mouth full.
Playful or mournful, the impact is not only aural. Mmm Hmmm is visually arresting, the three performers kitted out in Harriet de Winton’s contrasting block-coloured jersey dresses with sleeves and hoods which adapt to hug or disguise the body. While singing they bounce and jostle around the stage, crowding into each other with the tensions of the everyday struggle to survive.
The theatricality builds wave upon wave of sound in a startlingly original and mesmerising world which, once entered, is not easily forgotten. This may be a show of only fifty minutes duration, but it’s time enough nevertheless to reach out and touch upon the soul.
Reviewed on 16th May 2015 | Photo: Paul Blakemore