Keli – an audio drama

April 27, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Intense

Royal Lyceum Theatre online: Wed 26 – Thur 27 Apr
Review by Hugh Simpson

Martin Green’s audio drama Keli, previewed earlier this month at the Lyceum, has arrived on the theatre’s Soundstage audio platform. While there is much that is odd about its presentation, it is an absolutely engrossing piece.

Keli (Anna Russell-Martin) is a seventeen-year-old tenor horn virtuoso in central Scotland, struggling not only with the expectations of others, but also with her own problems and those of her traumatised mother.

Anna Russell-Martin as Keli, with Whitburn Band at the Keli preview. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Events come to a head over the weekend of a brass band competition at the Albert Hall, with a series of encounters that range from grit to magic realism.

In among the well-observed dialogue (complete with spicy language) there is more than might be expected of Green himself. He spends considerable time explaining the inspirations behind the play, including his growing interest in brass band music and the communities that continue to nurture it.

There is also another parallel story, drawn from a utopian fairy tale from the Weimar Republic era by Hermynia Zur Mühlen.

compelling

While there is certainly a great deal of interest in all of this, it often seems less than necessary, and suggests that Green may not have been too confident in the ability of the audio drama to stand by itself.

The play unequivocally needs no such apology, but the result becomes frustratingly diffuse at times and is certainly too long as a result. It is noticeable that one of the most compelling segments – a conversation between Keli and a half-mythic figure, played with warmth and conviction by James Cosmo – is largely uninterrupted.

Tenor horn soloist Sheona White at the Keli preview. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Green’s explanations and reactions are always engaging but might have been best presented as some kind of standalone bonus feature rather than being integrated into the drama itself. We do not need to be told by Green not to judge the characters too harshly; similarly, the political undercurrents of the story are readily apparent without the commentary, or the heavy-handed use of the fairy tale.

Such reservations aside, the drama itself is utterly convincing. Russell-Martin is simply brilliant as Keli – full of life, vulnerable yet utterly defiant.

Billy Mack, as her mentor and bandleader Brian, and Carmen Pieraccini as her mother Jayne are also thoroughly impressive. Both present determined, flawed characters, battered by life but constantly striving, in a way that is completely captivating.

atmospheric and constantly fascinating

An impressive supporting cast, including Gemma Stroyan, Laura Lovemore and Liz Kettle, give life to a series of absorbing encounters.

Sonically, the drama is first rate, at times dramatically realistic and at others positively oppressive.

Green’s music is orchestrated by Benjamin Woodgates and recorded by a hand-picked band, featuring Sheona White on tenor horn. It is atmospheric and constantly fascinating, with Calum and Cameron Malcolm’s recording and mixing adding greatly to the effect – to say nothing of Eloise Whitmore’s sound effects.

Wils Wilson is credited as co-creator as well as director, and contributes hugely to a production that, for all its structural peculiarities, is never less than riveting.

Running time 2 hours 5 minutes without intervals
Lyceum Theatre Soundstage

Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 April
Evenings: 7.00 pm
Information and tickets: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/keli

Martin Green’s website: https://www.martingreenmusic.co.uk

Martin Green with Whitburn Band at the Keli preview. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

ENDS

 

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