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British Paraorchestra: The Nature of Why, Brighton Festival 2019 review - it's a happening! | reviews, news & interviews

British Paraorchestra: The Nature of Why, Brighton Festival 2019 review - it's a happening!

British Paraorchestra: The Nature of Why, Brighton Festival 2019 review - it's a happening!

Onstage melee of players and audience that is as much about human experience as music

French horn player Guy Llewelyn gets amongst it

The Nature of Why is not so much a concert as a multi-discipline happening. To assess it is to relate a human experience rather than just an aesthetic appreciation of the new orchestral work by Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory which is at its heart.

On the surface, it’s an hour-long piece in nine short movements, interspersed with old BBC recordings of the Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Richard Feynman explaining how magnetism is unexplainable in layman’s terms. As a participant, however, there’s much more to it than that.

The event takes place at the Brighton Dome’s main concert hall and the audience is initially invited to cluster at the back of the auditorium. Among us are members of the British Paraorchestra and various smiling young people clad in white who don’t look like punters so much as members of the Guilty Remnant sect from end-of-days TV show The Leftovers. Once we are gathered, a figure before us starts to speak.

This is Charles Hazlewood, the one-man whirlwind of a conductor. Calmly intense, casual, clad in a white open-necked shirt and fawn Chinos, the 52-year-old is now something of a silver fox. He tells us that we are about to be led onto the stage where we should feel free to mingle with the action, to nose right in, to “be curious as to what a bass clarinet smells like”. Then all around us a chorus begins from the white-clad of cheery “Pom-pom-pa-dom”s and we are led onstage by percussionist Harriet Riley, tocking the loudest cowbell know to humanity.

This is not a show for those with social anxiety. Or maybe it's the cure for it!

Once onstage it is a melee. The music ebbs and flows, a touch of serialism, a touch of Morricone and even a touch of lounge music in its combination of strings and occasional voices, but interspersed with explosive climaxes that veer far from those reference points. I am surrounded by people, the show has dancers who flit about amongst us, their choreography designed by Caroline Bowditch. I am immediately challenged, sidestepping as I suddenly notice blind soprano Victoria Oruwari rolling about near my feet, singing at full pelt.

I back into another group of people who are also backing into me to make room for French Horn player Guy Llewelyn in his wheelchair, his facial expressions hamming it up. My English decorum is under attack. Where do I go? Where should I go? What will be asked of me? This is not a show for those with social anxiety. Or maybe it's the cure for it! Meanwhile, at the stagefront Hazelewood leads his more formally arranged Army of Generals string section who ground the whirling rest.

A sequence starts that is clockwork in feel. The dancers and Paraorchestra become jerky mannequins. They invite us to join their robot dance. They all wear blissed expressions. They reach for people and move with them. It’s like being amongst a cult. It’s freaking me out. I feel trapped. No, I don’t. It’s amazing. It’s as if milling about has become a religious ritual.

Sometimes the centre of the stage becomes a performance space, the dancers entangling with each other, while at another point the auditorium itself becomes their territory and we cluster at the stage-front to watch. Later a gigantic wooden xylophone on wheels is spun round and round like a percussive whirlpool as we scatter. A female harpist catches my eye intently. They’re all trying to catch my eye. Paraorchestra players are shifted about, dance around or lifted up. It’s disorientating, lit sometimes by spotlights and sometimes just by bulbs long-hanging from the heavens.

In the end percussion is being handed out, some of the audience are dancing. Are they even the audience anymore? What’s happening? Others have skittled off to the corners. The dancers are twirling people around. There are lots of ecstatic grins. I can’t shake the oddly cult-ish feel but something has gone on. The way they keep catching my eye reminds me of the in-the-know glances on-it ravers give each other. Then suddenly it's over and everybody looks about like bright-faced kids. They applaud and some talk to the players. Are we in this together? Was it all about magnetism after all? About being drawn together or repelled? I do not know but The Nature of Why is rather brilliantly befuddling.

Below: watch a two-minute trailer for British Paraorchestra: The Nature of Why

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