Dr Montserrat Roser i Puig, one of the speakers at the event, had it spot on when she described Brossa’s work as ‘mildly innocuous’. Though those are not exactly encouraging words for a director, Sardaneh and Lock Ireland do not do the tempting thing of trying to either apologise for the work or send it up. They stage the very short sketches-more accurately described as jokes or small observations- faithfully, relying on the comic talents of their actors. Marie Netsborn, as a hiccupping pianist, is particularly charming in her clownishness. The linking music for the sketches, a typical silent movie comedy score, works nicely in acknowledging the ‘circus’ aspect and avoids them from becoming pretentious Beckett-esque musings.
The directors’ own sketches are more appealing, acting as a dialogue with the original Brossa pieces. Music is more deeply explored here, such as in the first sketch by Lock Ireland where the stage is bare and we are listening to a ‘radio station’, where callers make romantic, ironic and terribly cheesy requests. The banality of their choices and the ‘romantic to the point of creepiness’ shout-outs are perfectly observed, with the callers completely unaware of their ridiculous tediousness. This theme is later reprised in one of Sardaneh’s sketches when a student (Alex Doble) tries the impossible task of getting through to a Student Finance operator. The script is so accurately observed that it was surely transcribed and the surreal touches when the student finally gets through to the thickly-accented operator (Ellen Lock Ireland) are reminiscent of the interrogation in The Birthday Party.
Though not all of the new sketches are music –themed, there is a thematic link of futility and repetition, the ultimate expression of which is the ‘hold’ tone. It’s a relic from the days where muzak was pumped into lifts and shops, supposedly to stimulate shoppers but actually numbing them. This is why I found the use of ‘modern technology’ worked really well in making their work distinct from Brossa’s.
Arguably the new sketches fit better with the symposium’s theme of the relationship between music and text. The rhythms of ‘modern technology’ are more deeply engrained in the new sketches than classical music is to the Brossa works. Had the directors had a better budget to replicate the classical music world, that would have brought out Brossa’s puncturing of the upper classes , but I think they give him a fair trial and they’re respectful enough not to present their sketches as improvements- even if the audience might agree.