Squatting in a southern corner of Southwark Park, the Dilston Gallery is an immensely impressive building. A former Mission Church, the space is long and narrow, its high roof vaulted with wooden beams. It really is quite breath-taking.
Within this towering hall, the set of Addictive Beat consists of a circular platform and a couple of smaller plinths, across which the story of Alex and Robbi unfolds. The production is described as “immersive”. The audience are encouraged to move about during the show, but few do, although some end up sitting on the floor as there are no seats, making for a rather foot-wearying 90 minutes.
Alex, aka DJ ALX (Fionn Whitehead) and Robbi (Boadicea Ricketts) are young creatives reuniting after some time apart. She is a singer/songwriter with a manager, gigging a combination of covers and her own songs. He’s a DJ/songwriter who seems in a rut and hasn’t released a new track in a while. Will a new collaboration between the pair yield something special and help them move their careers on?
A dynamic opening scene about the hypnotic power of dance music over the brain and body effectively illustrates the common goal of the erstwhile friends. Alex and Robbi met as teenagers at a music camp where they bonded over their mutual love/hate relationship with insanely catchy ear-worm ‘Uptown Funk’. Years later they’re both still dreaming of musical success while holding down mundane jobs to pay the bills.
Alex and Robbi’s collaboration hits gold when they create the ultimate track: Robbi’s vocals and Alex’s arrangements forming a perfect song, just as they’d hoped. But it emerges that their production has a dark side, far removed from the pure joy they were aiming for… Exposed to the track, Robbi’s little sister dances herself into a state of dehydration, and her mother is so distracted by the tune that she crashes her car. In a sort of be-careful-what-you-wish-for morality tale, the track intended to cause maximum happiness is putting listeners’ lives at risk. It’s a rather melodramatic twist, but not an uninteresting one.
One problem with this premise is we don’t get to hear the song. It would be a tall order to create such a genuinely addictive piece of music, so summoning its essence via abstract dance is a sound alternative, but it’s a hard sell that doesn’t quite work. The concept is believable but the realisation isn’t quite successful.
The story’s issues are resolved off-stage, a sort of voice-over informs us. After this the performers return as DJ and singer to seal the production’s claim to be “part gig, part theatre”. As I watched the pair do their stuff at the far end of the hall, I couldn’t help realising I had admired the building more than the show it had hosted.
Written by: Dawn King
Directed by: Rob Drummer
Produced by: Boundless Theatre
Score composed by: Dom Coyote
Composed by: Anikdote
Addictive Beat plays at Dilston Gallery until 7 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.