The big picture

14 April 2017

Phoebe Graham on the beautiful mundanities of Ordinary Days

Warren hasn’t found his bigger picture yet but he sees the beauty in the little mundanities of life. He is goofy and loveable. He finds some graduate dissertation notes.

Deb has found her bigger picture but doesn’t quite know how to reach it. She’s smart but stroppy. She loses her graduate dissertation notes.

Claire is moving in with her boyfriend but she’s haunted by the memories of a previous relationship. She’s mature but unsure.

Jason is moving in with his girlfriend but she’s haunted by the memories of a previous relationship. He’s a hopeless romantic and is head over heels in love.

A prevalent theme of the festival appears to be the significance of the interlaced ordinary experience. This premise can be insightful, but it can sometimes be a little bit preachy and definitely a little bit boring. But Ordinary Days carries its message off effortlessly, because it has a score to lift the everyday experience from the mundane to the actually mildly interesting.

Theatrical and Musical Direction are tightly joined at the hip. Sophie Forster and John Reddel match and marry musicality and melodic tone with each character’s traits and behaviours. Reddel literally takes centre stage (or maybe more upstage left) as a competent accompanying pianist who adds extra flair in spontaneous reactions to the on stage action. He also makes for a marvellous Starbucks barista.

Song cycles can become a bit lacklustre and err on the edge of overly sentimental, tripping from one ballad into the next, into the next. This is the case for Claire and Jason’s relationship, and their linked narrative pails in comparison to the more vibrant lives of Warren and Deb which are admittedly more relatable to a predominantly student led audience.

Alex Mackinder and Meriel Killeen, as Warren and Deb, carry the show’s energy and give slick comic performances. Mackinder emits an eccentric awkwardness (think Sheldon Cooper) and Killeen rips the audience into stitches in a song about frantically emailing her tutor to request an extension – many at NSDF may have felt similar pain. Both relax into the show and provide a vocal belt that holds your trousers securely in place.

Isabelle Horler, as Claire, offers a more fragile sound, but nonetheless tinkles up and down her soprano range and Luke Blacklock’s Jason has a teddy-bear face that you just want to squeeze, with a teddy-bear voice to match. Each performer can stand in their own right, but it’s their occasional unity of harmony that really induces the goose-bumps.

Production design is kept to a bare minimum to sharpen the focus on the four central narratives, but what’s lacking is a visual evocation of the New York City backdrop. What’s needed here is a greater flavour of the MET, the subway, the integral hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps.

Durham Light Opera Group have succeeded in creating an assured and composed close to the festival, but it’s reminded me that I now have to email my own tutor to beg for an extension to my looming deadlines once I leave the fading skyline of Hullywood.