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Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Of all the places to see a new musical premiered, SPILL at the Barbican seems an unlikely setting. But artist Robert Pacitti’s annual festival of performance is well known for offering the unexpected and in Glorious, a new commission from Rajni Shah Projects, it delivers once again. Glee this is not.

Shah’s work is characterised by a desire to engage with a wider public outside the live art bubble. Here, she not only talks to them but puts them on stage to talk to us. Six born or adoptive Londoners recruited on nearby Whitecross Street, their stories are accompanied by a range of ethereal songs from Shah and a subtly shifting soundscape performed by students from the Guildhall.

As the show tours to new venues, it will be reworked in collaboration with those communities, too. The only constant is Shah, standing centre stage for the duration of the performance in a remarkable ensemble by Lucille Acevedo-Jones that’s both set and costume at the same time. Wise, still and beautiful as the oak tree she resembles, Shah is a performer of undeniable presence, projecting through quiet confidence and grace alone.

Her plea? That we find a way of existing both inside and outside ourselves in order to appreciate what really matters, the small notes of wonder amid life’s multiplicity. Insistent repetition of words and imagery builds a cumulative effect – “from chaos into light” as one song puts it. It’s a yogic experience, as removed from the West End as you could get.

Yet, like other musicals before it, Glorious leaves you wanting more. Shah chose the genre, she says, to test if something so accessible could “positively embrace the unknown and the unknowable.” The results are certainly uplifting; we are sent off into the balmy Barbican night with daffodils pressed into our hands and a sense of togetherness. But as for offering something we don't know already? Shah simply reminds us that, as Louis MacNeice wrote in his incomparable Snow: “world is crazier and more of it than we think / Incorrigibly plural.”


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