This was the seventh time I’ve seen Soundstream’s Electric Messiah. It’s different every time of course but some things stay, more or less, as features. The biggest change this year is the shift from the Drake Underground to Crow’s Theatre. It’s staged as a conventional proscenium arch type show with the audience sitting in tiered rows facing the stage rather than being set up night club style. There’s no bar in the actual performance space but you can still take a drink to your seat. The drinks are cheaper than at the Drake too!
Some constant features were multilingual arrangements of “Comfort Ye” and “Every Valley” (by Kyle Brenders) performed by all of the quartet of singers. As previously the four come from varied backgrounds; Lindsay McIntyre and Andrew Adridge from the opera/classical world, Sharang Sharma with a choral background and jazz/soul virtuoso Elizabeth Shepherd. Also elements of continuity were turntablist SlowPitchSound and dancer Libydo. This year though we got an extra dancer in the highly kinetic Sophie Dow who also did the best land acknowledgement ever.
Other elements familiar from previous years were Andrew’s “Black Lives Matter” take “The People That Walked In Darkness”. and Lindsay’s version of “I Know That MY Redeemer Liveth” accompanied by Wesley Shen on shō. There was also Adam Scime’s reimagining of “All We Like Sheep and, of course, an upbeat “Hallelujah Chorus” to finish.
New material included an intriguing piece “Lion’s Den” composed by Elizabeth plus her new arrangement, accompanying herself at the keyboard of “He Was Despised”. There was also anew piece “Body” by Lieke Van der Voort.
Having a “cleaner” space to work in and no audience members to dodge around made it possible for director Rob Kempson to do much more with his singers and dancers than was ever possible at the Drake. So, there’s a lot of movement in this show and much more varied and dynamic choreography. Having a full height theatre and a proper lighting rig also allowed Lighting Designer Jareth Li much more scope in that department. Though I miss the initmacy of the Drake I think the plusses of the move to Crow’s outweigh the minusses.
The band this year consisted of Joel Schwartz on guitar, Wesley Shen on harpsichord (and shõ), and Dafydd Hughes on electronic keyboards. Adam Scime conducted and managed the electronics and played electric bass on occasion. I really liked this combo and the sound world created. I don’t think one needs a laptop orchestra or a chorus. The minimalist approach fits somehow and I’m getting to the point where Handel on electric guitar sounds perfectly natural. I think Handel would like this show. I’m not so sure about Charles Jennens though!
This iteration of Electric Messiah comes in at around 80 minutes, which seems a perfect length, and it’s deeply satisfying. There are three more chances to catch the show; tonight and to morrow at 7.30pm or tomorrow at 1.30pm. Ticket availability is limited and last night was completely sold out.
Photo credits: Cylla von Tiedemann