You don’t have to be a Londoner to get nabakov’s Symphony but if you are, then in between the lines, beats and off-beats of the drum the piece shares a knowing wink that talks of take-away coffee and unlikely beauty among unrelenting hectic. Although there is a different kind of electricity in the air, at the Fringe that London cynicism can get momentarily lost between an unironic “I <3 Edinburgh” tote swung over my shoulder and the morning saunter through the meadows that can get me anywhere in the city without the need to squeeze into a metal tube on rails.
This storytelling event with musical interludes is a bit like casual sex – entertaining while it lasts but ultimately it leaves you with little to warm your heart for long. Four performers, dishevelled to varying degrees, give a concert laced with three short plays by young British playwrights.
Symphony is about finding your own story among the advertised illusion of lifestyles, opportunities and pre-written shoulds and woulds. Fluidly slipping in and out of characters or behind the keys, various guitars and the drum kit, the performers are a talented bunch, and especially at the kick-off with Tom Wells’ Jonesy, often manipulating the instruments to comedic effect.
Iddon Jones plays a 15-year old Welsh underdog who gets the PE GCSE blues. It’s all skimpy shorts, adolescent dreams and grinding expectations of lad culture but it also manages to take a witty look at how we measure our own success against expectations we draw from existing narratives. In Jonesy’s case Cool Runnings was his forming narrative, and why not? In Tom Wells: Plays 1 published in 2021 Jonesy will be right next to Jumpers For Goalposts, part of the playwright’s “Young Men and Sports”-Cycle and it will feel like foreplay, an amusing side note to the infinitely superior Jumpers.
A Love Song for the People of London by Ella Hickson makes Symphony slide unashamedly from dick jokes with asthma inhalers to pie-baking Zooey Deschanel admirers on this years’ universal kookiness scale. Bemoaning kindles for ruining chances to flirt and damning fateful brollies for communication mishaps, the players in this menagerie are serenaded by London (in shape of a Brit Pop front man) itself. It’s a great twist, delivering one of the best (musical) moments of the piece – a throbbing soundtrack about chancing your luck. Liam Gerrard plays Alex who bakes pies when he’s anxious and who sniffs his dream girl’s hair on the bus. Alex pathetically rages against the unkind urban spirit who is selective about whose love life he’ll support. Suck it, pie creep! London doesn’t owe you anything.
Striking me as the most genuine in this triad of self-narrating characters are Jack Brown’s mucky pup philanderer, and Katie Elin-Salt, as a woman who knows what she wants. The rise and fall of an urban love story in Nick Payne’s My Thoughts On Leaving You is a funny account of heart break, full of delightful stranger than fiction contrasts – real people meeting in a puddle of wee and trying to create something meaningful out of it.
The show ends on a beautiful chanson note about the City and for a moment the three plays come together under a wicked sound blanket, thickly woven like an urban structure with ideas of fate, predetermination and luck sticking out like passionately moving limbs.
Although the unruly punchiness of the piece was highlighted by a crackling soundtrack, surely curtsey of a repeatedly dropped amplifier, the venue hindered the chance to be entirely engrossed in the music festival style art form mix. The raked seating in Assembly’s Bosco Tent is far removed from eyes-closed, swaying in the crowd with an East End microbrewery beer can in hand. Or maybe it had nothing to do with the venue, maybe on that day Symphony was just a love song from the wrong city.