Theatre review: Music is Torture

The scene is a run-down recording studio, where the sound desk keeps blowing up in a shower of sparks. Behind the glass is a band called Dawnings; pensive, slightly mournful indy types, played with relish by A Band Called Quinn, who have been trying to finish the same album for 15 years. And in front of the desk sits Jake, their producer; once a member of a top band of the late 1990s, but now doomed to a life of penury, living on his lumpy, pizza-stained studio sofa because he can no longer afford his flat, watching while former bandmates pick up awards for their glittering new careers.

A Band Called Quinn in Music is Torture
A Band Called Quinn in Music is Torture

Music is Torture ****

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

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Until, that is, the night when his streetwise friend Nick gets him and the band shouting along to a few artificially generated beats – they’re yelling “Kill Them All”, the slogan of Jake’s old band – and likes what he hears. In no time, Kill Them All is going viral on the internet; and then Jake receives a lawyer’s letter saying that the track is being used for “enhanced interrogation” – ie. torture – by the US security forces, and that there might be some royalty money in it.

This is the set-up for Louise Quinn’s intriguing new drama for her band’s own Tromolo Productions, presented as part of the Tron Theatre’s Mayfesto exploration of theatre and music; and it has to be said that it takes an absurd amount of time – almost two thirds of its 75 minutes – to reach the point where the letter arrives, and the story really begins. The result is a rushed conclusion, and an underwritten exploration of Jake’s gradual recognition of the moral dilemma he faces.

Everything else about the show, though, is completely alluring, from Andy Clark’s superb performance as Jake, through the gentle, incisive quality of Quinn’s dialogue, to some truly mind-blowing video, lighting and sound design by Tim Reid, Kate Bonney and Bal Cooke. The music is sweet, witty and often powerful. And Ben Harrison directs with real artistry, in a show which – particularly through Harry Ward’s fine performance as Nick – makes us feel in its very body-language how the system comes for us all; whether it’s standing over us at Guantanamo threatening more waterboarding, or forcing us to sign a dodgy contract out of sheer financial desperation, or just demanding that we bare our souls on the internet, on the off-chance of redemption by celebrity, when all else has failed.

*Music Is Torture is at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, 1 June.