Theatre Review: 30 DAYS OF THE SMITHS – The Lowry, Salford

‘The Smiths outside Salford Lads Club’. Image courtesy of Stephen Wright.

‘The Smiths outside Salford Lads Club’. Image courtesy of Stephen Wright.

Despite its initial promise, 30 DAYS OF THE SMITHS fails to transfer from page to stage

30 DAYS OF THE SMITHS makes its world premiere as part of WEEK 53 at The Lowry this week, with a special performance at THE DOCK LAUNCH NIGHT.

Described a new art ‘sound installation’, 30 DAYS OF THE SMITHS interweaves the music and lyrics of British guitar group THE SMITHS with visual imagery and electronic music by UK sound artist Oberman Knocks.

Devised with international poet Jackie Kay, the landmark commission is one of 63 performances and exhibitions that form part of WEEK 53, an 11-day long festival which showcases national and international works which challenge convention and celebrate creativity.

On paper, 30 DAYS OF THE SMITHS is certainly a unique production. Fitting with the festival’s themes of ‘home’ and ‘place, the soundscape merges stories from local people with the surname of Smith, with the music and legacy of The Smiths, the infamous British group synonymous with Manchester and Salford. The result is an immersive piece of audio artwork that reflects the contemporary lives and landscape of Salford.

First impressions are good as the doors to The Lowry’s newly opened DOCK space open and the audience are guided into the intimate performance area. Hard-back chairs are scattered around make-shift tables made out of wooden pallets while coloured disco lights and dry ice create the atmosphere of a club.

The focal point is David Shearing’s innovative stage design which contrasts the comfort of a living room with the cold, hard industrial backstage environment. UK sound artist Oberman Knocks performs live, standing on stage behind a large DJ deck with mesh netting separating the audience from the performer and providing a blank canvas for a light show. Projectors display the visual images on the side walls of THE DOCK, merging still photographs with over exposed aerial shots and live action footage, as Oberman Knocks interweaves interview snippets with electronic music.

Of all the 63 performances on during WEEK 53, I was looking forward 30 DAYS OF THE SMITHS the most but I’m sorry to say that I was left disappointed. On paper, the commission sounds impressive – local people, local music, innovative concept – but unfortunately, it fails to transfer from page to stage.

The biggest issue is that it’s almost impossible to see the video footage on the side walls of THE DOCK, the black cloth hiding all forms of colour and movement, so the overall effect of the piece is lost. The audio footage of the local people telling their stories is also heavily distorted by the electronic music and futuristic sound effects, making it very difficult to hear. As a result, the piece feels disjointed and chaotic, with no real flow or continuity.

Despite its initial promise, disappointingly 30 DAYS OF THE SMITHS failed to deliver. An interesting concept which ultimately fails to transfer to from page to stage.

2 out of 5 stars

30 DAYS OF THE SMITHS runs at The Lowry as part of WEEK 53 until 8 May 2016.