Century Song is a love letter to a hundred years of female endeavour. Through an intoxicating mix of music, dance, visual imagery and song, Volcano Theatre explores the experiences of black women in America and through this, makes a wider statement about gender, politics and progress.
This is one of those shows where it’s really hard to know where to look. It’s instantly apparent that a simple set is the perfect canvas for an extraordinary array of artworks, charting the passage of time. Performer Neema Bickersteth is accompanied by two musicians who deliver the sexiest percussion I’ve heard for a long time. Gregory Oh is both pianist and composer of the music throughout the show. His vocals and wide-ranging use of the piano for both musical and percussive purposes are compelling.
Benjamin Grossman has a variety of kit at his disposal, including a computer used for perfectly placed vocal sampling and looping. The two musicians performed a soundscape that took us from the heartrending Vocalise by Sergei Rachmaninoff through TV show theme tunes and original compositions. You could happily spend the whole show watching them.
If it weren’t for the incredible Bickersteth. She starts the show seated in the audience, a lovely way to reinforce the idea that in some senses, this is every woman’s story. Her opening vocals – the Rachmaninov – are magnetically flawless. And then she starts to dance. Choreographer Kate Alton has created a curiously mesmerising piece, full of repetitive movements that underline the passing of time but in many ways, the lack of change. Bickersteth embraces the challenge of being both singer and dancer with aplomb. Her vocal performance is unruffled by her movement and she interacts wonderfully, sometimes wittily, with the on screen visuals provided by fettFilm.
Considered costumes make a bold statement about the restrictions (corsets!) that have impeded self-expression. and prove an accessible way to document history. Lighting is starkly beautiful, used to particularly good effect during the searing World War Two sequence.
This is a thoughtful, compellingly magnetic piece from a Canadian company that are a welcome addition to the Fringe. Taking on a century of womankind is a bold ambition for any show but Volcano Theatre have delivered a piece that will worm its way into your mind.