BABYLON: The Flanagan Collective
Runs 2h 30m, one interval
Touring till 15 02, but out again later in the year
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, Old Joint Stock, Bham. 12 02 14
A unique and powerful style.
The Flanagan Collective members (they describe themselves as a ‘rolling strolling rag tag bunch of folk’) have a strong sense of their unique and powerful style in BABYLON. It’s as if they’ve taken the strongest elements of performance – acting, simple story-telling, traditional music and singing – and wound them together to create a profound and political narrative. On one level it is a parable or story of childlike naivete, on another level it’s a forensic examination of power, democracy and human needs.
England appears to be run as a benign (or otherwise) democracy; the Governing Office announces that the country really needs a monarch so they find the person most suitable. Henrietta Edwards is chosen, she’s a woman of the people. But she finds herself trapped by the machinery of government, by the need to impose (in the country’s best interests) severe austerity. There’s a revolution . . .
All this is simply told and acted out together with a mass of beautifully sung traditional style songs. The company sing as one; the hard-edged close harmony wings its way straight to your heart. At one moment you sit with a Cheshire catlike grin on your face, at another you sit with hushed breath.
There is no attempt at the, elsewhere, frequently seen ineptly adopted Brechtian alienation here. We are gently distanced from the story, able to contemplate moment by moment the story’s implications to our own condition, but we are gently drawn into it too. All by the form. Magic.
‘Long live the mighty / And long live the loyal . . . ‘ we sing in the replacement National Anthem. But does one anthem merely replace another, but with the same purpose? BABYLON asks.
Written by: Alexander Wright
Directed by: Joe Hufton
Composed and Performed by: Conrad Bird, Jim Harbourne, Serena Manteghi, Ed Wren
Development and Dramaturgy by: Dominic Allen