The idea behind 35MM: A Musical Exhibition is that a picture can not only paint a thousand words, it can conjure up a song. Fifteen photographs are projected onto a screen whilst five cast members belt out tunes intended to illuminate the stories behind the images.
Somewhat like a digitally over-tweaked photograph, this is a production of stark contrasts. Some of the songs have obvious connections with the photos on display; for others, the link is much more blurred. Some of the vocals are strong; others are less than pin-sharp. Some of the music is easily accessible; some of it is disjointed and a harder listen.
The photos (by Matthew Murphy) used to inspire Ryan Scott Oliver’s songs are by turns abstract or literal, but always have something interesting about them. It’s a shame they are relegated to a rather-too-small screen fixed to the wooden rafters above the stage space. Perhaps a larger projection on a back wall behind the stage area would enable the cast to become part of the photographs, creating more of the multimedia experience that was promised.
The stories focus on the human condition, travelling from the initial excitement of a new fling, through the exploits of brattish child Caralee and an arguing couple, to a tragic tale of star-crossed lovers and the evil machinations of a bitchy high school prom queen. The music is very definitely in a contemporary American musical theatre style, reminiscent of other shows such as Ordinary Days, but all-too-often less aurally pleasing.
The best vocals come from Rosie Ward and Kirsty Marie Ayers, followed by Niall Rooney who does a good job with one of the more typically melodic numbers "The Seraph". The cast are at their best when singing in rousing five-part harmony, but some of the other numbers fall flat.
I really wanted to love this show given that it marries together two of my passions, musical theatre and photography. However I left feeling underwhelmed, concluding that it may sometimes be best to let a picture speak for itself.
- Emma Watkins