The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy

Is this a music concert? Is it a piece of theatre? Can it be both? Might it be neither? These are the questions that may well fly around your mind after experiencing The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy. Indeed, these are some of the questions which formed the beginning point of the conception of the work by its originators Jonas Vermeulen and Boris Vanseveren.

An intriguingly experimental piece of theatre which really deserves to be seen and heard.

The initial set-up of the stage space would certainly suggest music concert as the performers’ instruments are positioned all around and it is immediately clear that the music is to be given especial prominence. However, the subject of our first focus is a backlit screen spanning the width of the upstage. From behind, a figure begins to draw an image – this process continues unabated throughout the performance and we come to realise that it is charting significant aspects of the eponymous Tommy’s journey away from his hilltop family home. The artistic style of this drawing is quite beautiful and adds to the quasi-surreal feeling engendered by the visible performers.

And though the drawing contributes intrinsically to the aesthetic of the piece, it is these visible performers who really carry the abstract narrative. Alongside the consistently excellent drumming of Thomas Deckx and the solid bass work of Pieter-Jan Janssen, the performances of the two storytellers simply must be seen to be believed. It is Vermeulen who carries the majority of the performance, though the characterisation and awkwardly perfect comic timing of Vanseveren is a fine accompaniment.

As promised, the narrative is centred on the journey of ‘Little Tommy’ who ventures away from the safety of his anxious mother and encounters a wide and esoteric variety of characters along the way. As his journey progresses, so does ours through a host of musical styles – each of which are carried off masterfully by the ensemble. Despite my concerns that Vermeulen’s vocal cords might not be able to last the duration of the performance after his particularly abrasive opening number, he continues to surprise the audience as he constantly reinvents his persona to convincingly portray a host of different characters without any reliance on costume or props.

Great care is taken of the audience, as we are served by electronic subtitles which ensure that the narrative elements of the text are conveyed – without this, the eccentric performances might not have delivered the required level of clarity. This is undoubtedly an intriguingly experimental piece of theatre which really deserves to be seen and heard. There are aspects of the production which may distance some spectators, but there can be no denying the unique artistry and wholly immersive performances on offer. 

Reviews by Joshua Clarke

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Tommy leaves his safe town up on the hill to see the sea. On his way he meets everyone whom for some reason isn’t allowed or doesn’t belong in the city. A journey through music history that gives the floor to the outsiders of society. Recipient of the Teater aan Zee 2015 Award, The Great Downhill Journey of Little Tommy is a coming of age performance told in songs and live drawings. See it. Hear it.