“Keep going,” actor Andy Clark says repeatedly to the musicians behind the glass screen in the unsubtly-named Limbo Studio created on stage, ensuring that we find our seats accompanied by a regular single drum-beat. It’s hardly the most torturous of repetitive sounds around but, after just a few minutes, it’s a genuine relief when Louise Quinn’s play finally begins. But that title is almost a hostage to fortune; not torturous, but certainly tortuous.
This is a visually appealing, often funny twist on a familiar-enough narrative
Clark plays recording studio owner Jake, who’s been working on the same album by the same band for the last 15 years. Success, after one hit single, has passed him by. This information is rather clumsily info-dumped in conversations between Jake and his dole-claiming, ciggie-rolling “mate” Nick, who generally wanders through life with all the empathy and swagger of a toddler. Annoyingly, it’s never once made clear why either Jake or “Dawnings”—the band, played by Quinn’s own group, A Band Called Quinn—are taking so long; why either, in fact, would put up with the situation.
It’s a small detail that niggles, not least because it’s certainly not because “Dawnings” are rubbish. A Band Called Quinn, for the most part kept in the relative shadows of the recording booth, expertly perform an album’s worth of tracks which are, one imagines, meant to reflect and comment upon Jake’s gradual Mephistophelean fall when a joke dance track that’s the work of seconds—with the catchy, no-selling-out title “Kill Them All”—first of all becomes a You-Tube hit and then a big earner thanks to its alleged use by the US Government in its “enhanced interrogations”.
If you’re not a fan of A Band Called Quinn’s velveteen guitar pop, however, this cross between gig and play can feel lethargic and lacking in dramatic pace, despite the best efforts of the cast (Clark and Harry Ward as Nick) and the impactful video projections devised by Tim Reid. Creative ennui may well be at the heart of what’s going on here, but it’s a challenge to show that engagingly on stage—bells and whistles not withstanding, this isn’t the best, despite some scene-breaking choreography which livens up proceedings and effectively shows rather than tells Jake’s internal conflict.
This is a visually appealing, often funny twist on a familiar-enough narrative; and both Clark and Ward are excellent, the latter especially once he’s required to personify the more dangerous aspects of the world into which Jake has fallen. Music is Torture also plays well with the ways of social media but, in the end, this alleged insider’s view about the temptations of the music industry just doesn’t have the necessary lightness of touch.