Creator: Graeme Leak
With a background as a composer, musical director and collaborator, Graeme Leak’s latest show Saved draws on all of his skills to create a unique and fascinating experience.
Leak’s one-man show takes place in a living room – the décor tells us this is a room frozen in time with its beige sofa cushions and tasselled lampshades. The rest of the room is filled with analogue musical instruments, some repurposed, others reimagined entirely, with two 1970’s home organs taking centre stage.
Graeme appears as our entertainer: a crumpled shirt and unkempt hair directs us away from expectations of a polished performance, but as Leak turns to a cassette deck and shows us a cassette labelled ‘Pre-Show’, it is done with a keen sense of formality. He plays it, and the voice is instantly familiar for anyone who attends theatre. We are asked to turn our mobiles off, although it cheekily states any uploading of photos onto social media will be actively encouraged.
By pressing down on the keyboards, and keeping the notes suppressed, Leak produces layers of sound. Using instruments that have long fallen out of favour, here they are transformed (the organ’s speakers are turned inside out so we can see them spinning). Leak adds percussive elements, programming and altering the tempo. Leak’s use of these instruments not only gives them a new life, but takes them far away from their original intention, as the sounds collide, becoming futuristic waves and pulses. Leak sings a single verse over the top of this music, and with each change he makes to the instruments, the lyrics take on a different hue.
Leak uses semantics to create a show that resonates with its audience. Deploying found items – a glass jar, an AM radio grasping for a signal – we are encouraged to make associations. Taken out of their normal context, these sounds feel half-familiar, connecting to memories of objects from our past.
Playing several instruments, Leak’s mastery over his set is hypnotic. As Leak loads another cassette, the tone of the performance shifts again. A man’s voice – it sounds like guided meditation – asks us to “love and honour” our imperfections. Spilling into more pre-recorded voices, and utilising non-musical objects, Leak segues into his thoughts on consumerism. In particular, he takes aim at the mindless, hyper consumerism of the 21st century, and its tendency to goad us into buying “not one thing that we need”.
By demonstrating how discarded and unwanted instruments can build a performance that, in its concerns, feels utterly contemporary, Saved doesn’t just question our throwaway culture. It satirises our view of the past as being defunct. The ethos of Saved is very much in valuing what is already here, what can be used or salvaged. Saved asks us to consider where we find ourselves on the spectrum: new or old, spend or save, beginner or professional. Boldly inventive, quirky and challenging: Saved is a clever thought-piece, and in its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe, deserves to find its moment.
Available online from: 8 August 2021 | Image: Contributed