24 Italian Songs and Arias
Brian Lobel with Gweneth-Ann Rand
Failure is often marked in numbers: 1 point off the entry requirements, 2 minors on a driving test, 3 inches too short for a rollercoaster. In 24 Italian Songs and Arias, Brian Lobel reflects on lack of success through the songs that failed to get him into the state choir: 4 points under. With musical accompaniment by Gweneth-Ann Rand and Naomi Felix, 24 Arias is both a celebration of failure and a reminder of the pleasure of doing something you don’t compete in – and how easy that is to love.
Lobel invites several opera singers to perform while their failures and rejections are listed like a recital programme. It’s utterly transformative; by allowing us to laugh with them, it rids the rejections of any shame, instead pinning them up as a mark of pride for having tried.
It’s a naturally warm and generous atmosphere. Lobel ushers people in when they’re late and beams at the others as they sing. When he gets the piano accompaniment wrong, Rand sighs loudly, her exasperation quickly creeping into a grin. There is a total absence of pity or bitterness. It doesn’t fetishise suffering for your art, but accepts weakness as simply human, acknowledging that what doesn’t kill you often doesn’t make you stronger.
Naomi Felix sits beside Lobel at the piano, silently turning pages as he plays. Finally she gets her chance to speak. After a hurtful rejection and illness, she steered clear of music, only to be nudged back into it by performing in a scratch of this show a few years ago. When I think of this play in the future, I will think of her.
24 Arias is sweet and affirming. It may be a little twee but the world is tough and gentleness can sooth some wounds. The attempt to be good enough is exhausting, and 24 Arias lets us bask in our glorious mishaps, offering a rare opportunity to experience failure collectively. As Lobel says: in failure, you’re in good company.
Diana is Dead
Fk Alexander with Andy Brown
22 years after Princess Diana’s death, the media’s obsession unsatiated. Articles are written about her daily – including several supposedly advised from beyond the grave – and Kensington Palace is currently advertising for the exhibition Diana: Her Fashion Story. It’s too much. In a eulogy pumped with rage, Fk Alexander smashes the consumerist feeding tube and finally puts Princess Diana’s ghost to bed.
All sharp edges and loud noise, this is a twisted fairytale. In Diana’s wedding dress, Fk stares at us with a dead-eyed grin. She munches on an apple open-mouthed, letting the juice dribble down her chin; Snow White sucking out her poison. Behind her, images flash of paparazzi photos and magazine covers. With skin red, eyes blue and screen glitching, Fk as Diana is the nation’s zombie princess.
Honing in on the intensifying media pressure towards the end of Diana’s life, a voiceover of an interview plays over and over. Diana refers to herself in third person, thinking about how others look at her. “Diana is unstable,” she says, “so what do we do with her?” The word “unstable” repeats and hangs there, in the empty space next to Fk’s hammer.
A trail of destruction is left in Fk’s wake. First it’s crockery – tea with the Queen shattered into tiny shards – then video tapes, chucked against the wall (her backhand is stronger), and finally TVs. It’s all thwacked, torn, dropped and thrown; broken and broken again just to be sure. Onscreen, the images mutate and melt into each other, snapping and fracturing, their colours reversing and the life sucked out of them. They become ghoulish, unreal, overwhelming. It’s useless: however much of Diana Fk destroys, more appears. The images keep coming, the words repeat louder. Clones of the princess run at us armed with hammers, their arms raised and ready to fight.
Like Fk’s previous performance, I Could Go On Singing (Over The Rainbow), noise levels are utilised to overwhelm. There, the sound was pumped with warmth – it wasn’t unusual for audience members to cry as the artist held their hands and sang to them – but here, it’s a different kind of intensity. Here, it is fuelled by rage.
Diana is dead. Long live Diana.