When writing a review, it is important to give an overview of the plot answering key questions like: did you like it? what happens? Who are the main characters? What are their motivations? When it comes to The Band at the End of the World, I find that I fall at the second hurdle. I really loved it and so did the crowd that followed them around the old town of Hull. But as to what happened? I find I can’t answer that so easily.
I’ll attempt to give an overview of what happened. The performance started with five dishevelled looking band members, four brass and a drummer (Jackson Lapes, whose eyes promised, and delivered, mischief from the beginning) appearing on the streets of Hull as a crowd gathered. Lapes led the group in a movement that felt simultaneously rhythmic and slightly off beat. The characters never speak, so the crowd is forced to read their faces and bodies whilst listening to the music to work out what is going on.
They seemed desperate to make a connection with the audience, expressed through the way they kept veering into us without provocation, forcing people to jump out the way and then looking disappointed when they just missed a collision. Eventually, they made their way to Trinity Square and, spotting a person that had not been following their journey sitting down, decided to join him, surrounding him and just…existing in close proximity. The stranger had no idea what was going on but, interestingly, made no signal that he was uncomfortable, seemingly enjoying the enforced human connection.
At this stage, I’m going to allow myself a paragraph to talk about Jack Stoddart’s face. It is a glorious face, capable of conveying a million different emotions, everyone of them tinged with a hint of contempt. His stock look was a mixture of confusion and annoyance, as if someone had asked him to explain the current political environment using only his instrument to convey the nuances of his thought process. The best thing about Stoddart’s face is that it resolutely refused to match his body. There is a glorious part towards the end where he and Katie Storer (also amazing – a really joyful performance) are performing a dance and whilst his face managed to evoke Martin Clunes, Jean Reno and Gérard Depardieu, his body was channelling the balletic movements of Darcy Bussell. His face was as entertaining as it sounds.
I can’t talk about Stoddart’s face without talking about Ali Houiellebecq’s smile. If Stoddart gave the impression of being slightly frustrated that the audience didn’t quite get it, Houiellebecq’s smile made it seem as if understanding wasn’t important, the feeling of being connected was. Her smile gave me the impression that she was in on the joke and made me feel that, in some undefinable way, I was too. Whilst it might seem strange to spend so much time on the performer’s faces, the absence of talking forced me to connect with them in different ways, encouraged me to notice things that I wouldn’t normally see.
And I loved it.
I loved it because of their engaging weirdness, a weirdness that was able to draw the audience together. I loved it for how they used different ways to communicate. I loved that they did this without speaking a word, letting their music do the talking, giving the whole performance a slightly surreal feeling, especially when they played their instrument on members of the crowd. That isn’t a typo. Perhaps thinking it the best way to communicate, the performers started playing their trumpets, trombones and saxophones on the stomachs and backs of members of the crowd. It sounds strange. It was strange. It was also beautiful and intimate. And that is the most fitting ending for a review of the show: The Band at the End of the World was strange; more importantly it was beautiful and intimate.