Sydney Lyric, February 10
Two drum-centric shows in four weeks, and they could not have been more different. The first, Disruption! The Voice of the Drums, focused on the instrument’s capacity (in the hands of the exceptional Simon Barker and Chloe Kim) for rhythmic complexity, melodic song and improvised interaction; for music. Drummer Queens, by contrast, is a piece of theatre, with the drums as the props and the eight female drummers having character names and related costuming.
Yet the character delineation barely stretches a hand’s breadth further other than in a hammy way, so perhaps the piece is closer to circus, with the drumming as acrobatics – or a magic show, with the drumming as a series of tricks. However you define it, and despite more notes being played than there are stars in the sky, precious little music was made in the course of 85 minutes.
Yes, Richard Neville’s lighting ratcheted the “wow” factor up to 11, and Neville and Adrienn Lord’s Meccano-like set mutated faster than COVID-19, but why not let the women attempt to engage us musically, rather than just having them hit things in a look-what-I-can-do way? Don’t get me wrong: their craft as drummers was exemplary and sometimes breathtaking. The show, however, devised by Joe Accaria, directed by Nigel Turner-Carroll and choreographed by Peta Anderson (who is also one of the performers) never tried to communicate any more complex emotion than excitement, and, like fireworks, that rapidly wore thin.
The default vocabularies that Accaria’s pieces drew on were rock and taiko at their most bombastic. Suppleness and groove were foreign languages, genuine dialogue and timbral variation were in short supply, and the few pools of softness and something approaching subtlety were swiftly shattered by fresh bombardments.
One piece imaginatively employing echo and marimba had merit; another, with four players using their hands on a large bass drum, was engagingly theatrical (aided, again, by the lighting); a third displayed Anderson’s jaw-dropping tap-dancing skills. But why did Accaria not draw more on such great (and creative) drumming traditions as those of West Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, India, Korea, Cuba or Brazil? Therein lay pathways to a musicality that would have added some depth, instead of settling for spectacle of the soulless arena variety.