FRINGE REVIEW – Era Schaeffera (Venue 150 / Universal Arts)


August 21 & 22
1900-2100 / 1500-1700 (22 only), Venue 150

Sadly, 80 year-old Boguslaw Schaeffer can’t be present at this extravagantly avant-garde celebration of his life and work, but the Polish composer and playwright’s utterly original and playful spirit most certainly is.

As we enter the basement space in Venue 150, we notice the large video screens on the walls on which live recorded video footage of the performance is projected. Actors mill around the seats, pausing to ask us questions, or to make philosophical points before taking their own seats at the back of the auditorium.

Then, the performance proper begins with a piece by the Olga Szawjgier Jazz Quartet. This is music at its most experimental, as if all previous rules and structures of composition have suddenly ceased to exist. As the musicians play their instruments with perplexed impressions, a solo soprano adds her high-pitched voice to the tonal layers, creating an aural experience which, whilst dissonant, still exercises a hypnotic fascination.

The video footage scans the faces of the actors at the back – their expressions flitting between rapture and bewilderment – before switching to footage of the next performer descending the escalator outside the venue. This visual is repeated throughout the 100 minute performance, and is a wonderful touch, heralding the arrival of each new segment of the piece and creating an expectant atmosphere in the venue itself.

The remainder of the piece consists of three main segments. Jazz vocalist Urszula Dudziak creates an intensely claustrophobic piece, consisting entirely of her own voice, breathing and screams layered on top of each other on a multi-track recorder. After the alien musical discoveries of the Jazz Quartet, her breathsong turns out to be one of the more accessible pieces of the evening and is at times bewitching.

As the Polish National Radio Orchestra then file into the room, conductor Angieszka Duczmal is seen descending into the depths of the venue, where she then leads one of Schaeffera’s compositions. The 14-strong orchestra are excellent, dealing adeptly with the composer’s challenging motifs and refrains as they create a tumbling sequence of strings which proves mesmerising.

The ever-present actors come into their own in the final piece, a performance of Schaeffera’s play ‘A Multimedia Thing’. Deconstructing culture, language and music, the piece is interactive and humourous, as the actors compete with each other for dominance in a work which epitomises the author’s artistic ethos and maverick soul.

Although avant-garde in extreme, the whole performance ultimately gels together into a wonderfully performed celebration of a prolific and original talent. If you have even a passing interest in new forms of art and music, Era Schaeffera provides a rare and brief opportunity to be immersed in a compelling multisensory vision of a unique individual.

Ticket information and further details are available on the Venue 150 and Universal Arts websites.

Review by Keith D

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