The Modernists by Jeff Noon

Living in Brighton you occasionally hear the Mods mentioned, in particular regarding the fights on Brighton beach with the Rockers. When the majority of people think of the Mods they think of scooters, parkas and that distinctive target logo. Jeff Noon’s play however, presents the real Modernists. More than just a fashion trend adopted by the 1960’s youth culture, being a Modernist was almost a philosophy, a way of life: extremely individualistic and particular. Noon’s play reveals the hidden origin of the Mods, in the late 50’s in north London, in a stylised and abstract presentation of young, working class men creating for themselves a meticulous guide to a life revolving around beauty.

Tanglehead Productions have brought this intriguing piece of theatre to the Brighton Fringe for two performances at Komedia. Founded in 2010, the company fuse music, theatre and film aiming to provide ‘a sensory experience for their audience that will stay with them long after the performance is over.’ Their Artistic Director and Producer, Rikki Tarascas, is the director of tonight’s performance as well as providing the live music accompaniment for the play.

Opening with a high stylised, slow motion sequence paired with eerie overtones of harmonica and drums from Tarascas, the audience is prepared for what is a rather abstract journey through the dynamics and tensions within a band of Modernists. Miles Mlambo, Zeff Sheriff, Lloyd Ryan Thomas and Robert Cooper make up the contrasting band of young pioneers, flying the flag for the Modernist way of life. Caught within a highly structured hierarchy, the tensions within the group are performed with accuracy and subtly as each cast member interacts with each other with ease. Lloyd Ryan Thomas stands out as a actor very much in possession of his talent, as his cocky yet whiny performance as Leon provides the majority of the expertly delivered comedic moments as well as some of the more haunting sequences with the play. Zeff Sheriff is a charismatic band leader as Vince, with his engaging performance of psychological decline as he struggles with the pressures of such a strict code of behaviour. The more sinister moments in the play are Sherrif’s and within theintimate thrust staging of tonight’s performance, the audience are reallytaken in by his focused and controlled portrayal of a young man falling outof love with his self. A few times some of his lines are lost, but in a way this just draws the audience in closer to the action as the dynamics within the band slowly start to unravel. Miles Mlambo has a powerful stage presence with his mature and consistent portrayal of Clifford. Second in command, Mlambo creates a sensitive and intelligent delivery of a young man torn between his childhood friend and his love of the Modernist lifestyle. As the new-comer to the group, Terrence, performed by Robert Cooper, represents youth yet lost as an innocent, stuttering singer. Cooper is utterly believable and commands genuine empathy for his performance from the audience.

All in all, the play is an insightful glance into the reality of the Mod period with ominous undertones of the pressures of a group of people so desperate to be individual and yet confined by such strictures of behavioural codes. At times, the pace of the play is halted by the constant use of blackouts which do not always seem necessary, but overall an exciting and informative piece of theatre that leaves you wanting more.

Reviews by Jessica Osborne Lax

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The Blurb

The Modernists by Jeff Noon Tanglehead Productions produced & directed by Rikki Tarascas. Fuelled by amphetamines, fast music, style and the motor scooter, The Modernists is a non-stop ride with the Mods. In the 1950s the Mods were the pure distillation of cool. They adopted blues R&B and Bluebeat, moved into basement clubs and developed their own dances, style and attitude.

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