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Review: Snake Oil, London Bridge Vaults

Back in October 2020, one of the very few companies staging live theatre was One Night Records with Lockdown Town. It told the story of American popular music in reverse chronology, with a different band in each room recreating scenes and sounds from the 1950s back to 1918. This was interwoven with a poignant, heartbreaking story about a young African immigrant seeking her family in Tulsa. I had no hesitation in giving it five stars. Now Lockdown Town is back, more or less. Or, to be specific: less. There are still multiple rooms hosting live bands, with the same…

Summary

Rating

Poor

Five random old-time music acts perform in damp cellars, stripped of everything that made Lockdown Town unmissable.

User Rating: 2.64 ( 21 votes)

Back in October 2020, one of the very few companies staging live theatre was One Night Records with Lockdown Town. It told the story of American popular music in reverse chronology, with a different band in each room recreating scenes and sounds from the 1950s back to 1918. This was interwoven with a poignant, heartbreaking story about a young African immigrant seeking her family in Tulsa. I had no hesitation in giving it five stars. Now Lockdown Town is back, more or less. Or, to be specific: less. There are still multiple rooms hosting live bands, with the same sets as before; but the storylines that tied the show together have been dropped in their entirety.

The audience is admitted at 15 minute intervals and directed, with no explanation, into the first of many cavernous spaces that comprise the vast cellars beneath London Bridge station. The room turns out to be empty. So we wander through to the next room, which I recognise as the 1950s TV studio from Lockdown Town. This, too, is empty. We carry on into the following room, where a duo of Chris Rand and Joe Glossop play jazz piano on two pianos. The echoing tunnel provides poor acoustics, and one does have to question whether the best accompaniment for a piano is another piano.

On to the second room – or perhaps the fourth room, depending on how you’re counting –  to see the entertaining and talented Dom Glynn playing blues guitar on the beautifully modelled verandah of a general store. He seems surprised to see us enter, and explains that he’s just about to play the final song of his set. After which he takes a half hour break.

So we trek through to the third (or fifth) room, a comfortable nightclub with nearly enough sofas, where Lucy Merrilyn entertains with jazz standards. She’s accompanied by David Larbi, on either piano or double bass; it’s not clear which one he is, or why the other one doesn’t get a credit. 

There are only so many times I can listen to Fly Me to the Moon, so we move to the fourth (or, possibly, sixth) room, through a deserted cinema showing 1950s American TV commercials, and which perhaps makes the next one the fifth (or maybe seventh) room. This turns out to house the highlight of the evening: the Gator Dogs, a six-piece New Orleans jazz band. They play a couple of numbers with great enthusiasm and musicality, before announcing that they too are about to take a half hour break.

We’re directed down a corridor to the next room, which turns out to be the first (or third) room again, with Chris Rand (or Joe Glossop) still bashing away at the ivories – on his own, this time, as Joe Glossop (or Chris Rand) seems to have found something better to do. Rather than hang about here we retrace our steps to the second room (the one with the TV studio, remember?) where a four-piece country rock band that goes by the unassuming name of Ben and Steve are gamely giving it their all to an audience of three. Back to the first room, which has now become a disco blaring out music that’s wholly at odds with the sensibility of the rest of the venue.

Lockdown Town last year provided a coherent, engaging piece of immersive theatre, woven around five live music performances. Stripped of both the explanation of American music history, and of the emotionally-charged parallel plot, the result is a somewhat chaotic and awkwardly timed trek through a series of identical bars in damp tunnels each of which, for no explained reason, houses a band playing old American music. This is no longer theatre, but a musical pub crawl. 

Produced by One-Night Records
Booking until 30 October
Booking link https://www.onenightrecords.com

About Steve Caplin

Steve is a freelance artist and writer, specialising in Photoshop, who builds unlikely furniture in his spare time. He plays the piano reasonably well, the accordion moderately and the guitar badly. Steve does, of course, love the theatre. The worst play he ever saw starred Charlton Heston and his wife, who have both always wanted to play the London stage. Neither had any experience of learning lines. This was almost as scarring an experience as seeing Ron Moody performing a musical Sherlock Holmes. Steve has no acting ambitions whatsoever.