Written by James Yabut, City Living Local Life
The divine and comedic combine to great effect in Jacek Ludwig Scarso’s Toxic Monks – a part-concert/part-installation performance that takes its audience on a trip from the banal to the sublime to a soundtrack of Gregorian chant and barbershop classics.
Jacek, who lectures in performing arts at London Metropolitan University, joined forces with The Old Telephone Exchange quartet last year after meeting them at a Royal Opera House event. Inspired by the group’s repertoire, he decided, in a reversal of the norm, to create a piece of work based on their musical choices. “I wanted to theatricalise their concert,” he explains.
Staged at Kensal Green Cemetery’s Dissenters’ Chapel (20 & 21 June), the result is a humorous, but affecting, 40-minute journey through life and death that begins and ends amongst the tombstones.
We first spy the monks larking about amongst the graves: pink plastic watering can in hand, and “When Pa” ringing out as they skip rope, dust headstones, and chase a ball. The curious but shy foursome soon scuttles off, and the joyful and frivolous give way to the chores of domesticity as they retreat to a small kitchen where rubber gloves are donned, and floors and walls swept.
Jacek was delighted at mix of the metaphysical with the earthy and poignant. “It starts off in a Monty Pythonesque style – it’s very light.” And yet the whole thing soon turns much darker.
Audience and performers wend their way into the cool, candlelit catacombs where the Monks somehow follow the solemnity of William Byrd’s “Ave Verum Corpus” with a cheerful rendition of “Gathering up the Roses”.
The final ascension presents the audience with a particularly smoky vision of paradise and the sound of Arthur Sullivan’s “The Long Day Closes.” This last scene is deliberately foggy: “I like the idea that we all crave a kind of utopia,” says Jacek, but it is not something he will spell out for the rest of us.
As Jacek sees it, there is no reason why we should all be expected to share the same idea of paradise: “Despite the chapel and monks scenario, the metaphor of paradise in the piece is not religious-specific, but rather an open utopian idea and a portrayal of life’s journey, however the audience wants to see it.”
There’s still plenty to see at InTRANSIT Festival! Visit http://www.intransitfestival.co.uk for the full line-up.