Hymns for Robots (Fringe 2018)

When Sound Meets Movement

Exiting Darkfield’s Flight, I believed that there would be no other performance to showcase such ingenuity in its use of sound. I was, of course, wrong. Hymns for Robots provides a fascinating and somewhat alternative exploration into the early days of sound design and production.

The piece is a disjointed examination of the life of Delia Derbyshire, a worker at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, composer of the Doctor Who theme, and one of the first architects of electronic music. The piece compares Derbyshire’s frustrations and audio’s inferior position in a prejudiced entertainments industry.

Noctium Theatre specialises in physical theatre, which may sound out-of-place in this audio expedition, but the actors charmingly visualise sounds through mime and manipulation of their cluttered set that features moving tapes and a fully-functioning mixing desk. The audio itself uses Derbyshire material and wholly original soundbites that delight the senses (mixed by the talented Charles Craggs).

Indeed, the set brims with character, paralleling Derbyshire’s mischievous personality that Jessie Coller excellently portrays through jovial line delivery and inquisitive, probing movements. Craggs pleasantly contrasts Coller’s larger-than-life charisma with quiet refinement as Derbyshire’s co-worker Brian Hodgson. The lovely details of flowers made of tape, tin-cans as telephones, and jackets masquerading as men create a compact performance where every movement and prop is given extreme importance.

The piece also takes into account those of hard-of-hearing, something easily overlooked in an audio-centric piece, which I applaud. There were a few moments where the pace could have picked up ever-so-slightly, but this is a must-see for anyone with interest in audio production and sound in general. Noctium Theatre has created a masterful performance that mesmerises at every turn.

(4.5 / 5)

Tickets available here.

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Thank you to the cast and crew’s hospitality