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Taylor Mac: The Notion of Belief (Queer Up North)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Venue: La Gayola
Where: Manchester

The publicity for Taylor Mac’s new show promises that the artist will examine whether belief can be overrated. Unfortunately this challenging theme is ignored. Instead of the promised band and concert we get the ubiquitous Lance Horne providing solo piano backing for cabaret as Taylor Mac discusses the less interesting concept of ‘ Comparisons.’

Although the subject is less ambitious it still given only a cursory examination. We are told that the negative effect of comparisons is that they reduce our individuality whilst the positive side of them is that they promote a sense of community. That is pretty much it. Although the show is crammed with anecdotes, they lose their effect when the audience isn’t familiar with the New York fringe theatre scene. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the theme of the show allows Taylor to talk about the things that irritate him – the success of Lady Ga Ga – regardless of whether the audience can relate to the subject.

This is particularly annoying as potentially interesting subjects – being a segregationist was the claim to fame of most notable member of Taylor’s family- are not developed. Likewise Taylor mentions, but does not really explore, the need to resolve certain issues quickly if, as certain cultures believe, the world is due to end in 2012

Irritation at being compared to a cross between Ziggy Stardust and Tiny Tim prompts Taylor to perform Bowie’s seminal album with Tiny Tim’s tunes mashed into the texture. It could work. Camille O’ Sullivan incorporates great versions of Bowie’s tunes into her cabaret act. The songs themselves are highly theatrical (following a single concept throughout the whole album) albeit overlaid with raw rock guitar. But Taylor Mac shows little empathy for the material.

Taylor Mac has/uses two basic styles of singing. Although his voice is good and he can both hit and maintain notes, his strong New York accent limits the inflection necessary to achieve the emotional delivery the songs deserve. His crooning style allows a wider range but really isn’t appropriate for tales of the coming apocalypse or feelings of ambition or remorse. His delivery is poor. Songs are performed with a fixed grin and rather than learn to dance he, well, jumps up and down waiving his arms. The formula adopted with the songs (a Tiny Tim ditty or anecdote inserted after the first couple of verses of a Bowie song) does not help the audience appreciate them or look at them in a different light.
It is hard not to feel cheated by Taylor Mac’s new show. Whatever the shortcomings of the planned original version you can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been an improvement on the current production.

- Dave Cunningham


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