Assembly George Square – The Box
Systemic racism and the cultural appropriation of Afro-American musical genres are the most socially relevant themes in this bleak piece of new writing by Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller. It’s 1974 and three musicians gather in Everglade Studio with their manager to record an Americana album. A strict deadline means that they have to work overnight to get it finished at all costs, leading to an increasingly sinister turn of events.
Raising star Skye’s (Alyth Ross) singing and guitar are supported at the keyboards by Baron (Aveev Isaacson – who also wrote the original score for the play). A true diva in the making, Skye becomes hostile when her manager Clarke (played by Brimmer-Beller) introduces Matilda (Hannah Omisore), who’s been hired to instil some “black magic” into Skye’s tracks but gets a rebuke when her arrangements become “too black”. This is a display of casual racism that is all the more unsettling because Clarke is also black.
Isaacson’s sublime soundtrack (with lyrics written by Brimmer-Beller) and Ross’s soulful execution are the crown jewel in this production. Played entirely live, it is a fine example of gig theatre and could confidently be developed to fill a two-hour slot. Because of the intimate space of The Box at Assembly, however, the sound doesn’t quite get an opportunity to fully spread its wings. Also, with all the musical instruments and recording equipment, the stage looks a bit cramped but, in neither instance does this detract from the experience.
The structure needs some ironing out, with drama reaching its apex too soon before embarking in a protracted descent that builds anticipation for more plot twist that never come. To benefit the narrative, the external voice of a radio announcer explains that a toxic material used to fireproof the walls is responsible for driving the artists to insanity. Personally, I’d have used that as the final denouement, as whatever happens next doesn’t add much value. Equally, some scenes could be revisited to keep more in line with the suspenseful, rather than gory, character that this play seems to be aiming for. A good example are the “in-yer-face” events surrounding the appearance of a Confederate Battle Flag, which feels forced.
Although very engaging, the potential of this piece is not fully realised. Its timeless charm is superbly sustained by thorough production values like lighting and costumes but falls one step short from reaching excellence.
Written and Directed by: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller
Produced by: Black Bat Productions
In Everglade Studio played as part of EdFringe 2023.