Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound is an ambitious and effervescent marrying of retro aesthetic and modern staging; but Blood of the Young’s latest production could take Daphne Oram’s own advice and embrace a bit more silence as well as noise.
As the title suggests, Wonderful World is a buoyant tour through the life of incorrigible 1950s electronic music pioneer Daphne Oram. She was a composer, an inventor and the founder of the BBC’s legendary Radiographic Workshop and, therefore, the spine-tingling music that defined the childhoods of a generation.
Blood of The Young’s multi-tasking founding-member Isobel McArthur, equipped with the ubiquitous cats-eye spectacles and cut-glass RP, is formidable as Oram. Following equally energetic performances in Alice in Wonderland, Avoidable Climbing, Cock and her own How To Sing It in the past year, McArthur is quickly building a reputation as one of the most scene-stealing character actors around. She has able support on-stage from the rest of the – pointedly male – ensemble, especially Dylan Read as some of the more outrageous characters that populate Oram’s frustrating world. Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s rigidly geometric set design is a sly echo of Oram’s obsession with rhythm and pattern, while Simon Hayes’ retro lighting palette of deep oranges and sci-fi blues drapes Daphne’s world in a familiar post-war colour-telly ambience.
Conjuring Oram’s Wonderful World, composer and sound-artist Anneke Kampman is a continual presence at the back of the stage, scoring the performance live with her collection of electronic sound equipment. It would have been good to see BOTY make more use of Kampman’s skills, replicating the diverse collection of sound-effects and techniques the Radiographic Workshop were famous for, rather than sticking to a sometimes repetitive underscoring. However, the theatrical upshot is the same: sound is a character in Daphne’s world, as real – more real – than many of the humans, and Kampman’s presence is reverent reminder of the continual impact of Oram’s work.
Among so much activity, it’s maybe inevitable that at times the story feels underdeveloped. It’s a whistle-stop introduction to the important events in Oram’s career that doesn’t leave much space for either Oram herself – or the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them characters around her – to show their motivations, other than in the most cursory way. The narrative is stringently chronological, more report than storytelling, and despite the overwhelming warmth on-stage, the script underpinning it still feels oddly cold.
Despite this, Wonderful World is another ambitious work from a fearless young company, and a wonderfully warm-hearted introduction to one of electronic music’s forgotten trailblazers.
Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound was on at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Click here for more details.