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The Big Smoke (Salford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Theatre Ad Infinitum take an innovative approach to telling a tragic tale. Canadian painter Nathalia (sole performer, writer and composer Amy Nostbakken) gets the chance to compete to stage an exhibition at Tate London. But the terrorist bombing of the underground sends her already frail mental state towards depression and worse.
On a bare stage with only a microphone as a prop Nostbakken convincingly conjures up figures from Nathalia’s life and charts her growing psychosis. It is a riveting performance particularly disturbing when Nostbakken stands dead still staring wet-eyed at something only Nathalia can see.
The factor that prevents the play from being a complete success is the method by which Nostbakken tells the story. She sings the whole script a cappella. Nostbakken has an excellent voice and can deliver the material well. But she does not compose any actual songs rather just sings her script to a jazz/scat rhythm that lacks variety and, after awhile, gets monotonous. Only towards the end does the music and performance combine in a way that allows Nostbakken to icily demonstrate Nathalia’s disassociation from her family and, ultimately, from reality.
It is a shame that the obvious passion behind The Big Smoke is not reflected in the dull music that prevents the evening from being a more powerful experience.

- Dave Cunningham


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