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Operation Greenfield

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Who would have thought Christian folk music could be so much fun? The musical misfit is a familiar trope, but Little Bulb’s band of outsiders are far from their heroes Bowie and Elvis, the latter of which haunts the stage of the Battersea Arts Centre as a gold lame-clad cut out.

In this endearingly offbeat creation, unlikely musical inspiration is discovered in the cosy environs of the Stokely Christian club, where forest fruits squash is gulped down with the vigour usually reserved for hard spirits and four fervently religious youngsters vow to triumph at the local talent show with a song elucidating the annunciation. Hardly The Commitments.

Yet this unlikely story yields rich creative crop. With easy, oddball charm, Little Bulb capture the comical, anxious solemnity of youth and the intense emotional tumult of growing up. For their characters, a solid faith in certainties is rocked by the thundering uncertainty of adolescence and the competing idols of the music they worship. This wide-eyed amble through teenage discovery and musical ambition is performed with deliciously silly flair by the exuberant quartet of performers, as props and bodies alike are flung enthusiastically around the cluttered stage.

Among the ingenious character comedy and physical inventiveness, there are delicate riffs on the interplay between the intrinsically linked elements of religion, theatricality and music. For all its po-faced gravity, it is the Church that gave us the Nativity play, a convention imaginatively turned on its head by the group’s enactment of the annunciation, complete with flute and over-sized wings. The performers also prove themselves to be accomplished musicians in a piece in which the music is as integral and as anarchically, beautifully messy as the narrative.

There is a whiff of style over substance, with Little Bulb’s wilfully weaving journey lacking a clear direction, but their style is so gorgeously crafted and the piece so unapologetically intent on the beauty to be found in the minute that it seems a churlish objection. Little details shimmer, from unlikely props plucked from battered suitcases to the expressive facial nuances of teenage awkwardness. Somehow, from a starting point about as spiritually expansive as they come, this morphs into a funny, tender and infectiously joyous celebration of the small.

- Catherine Love


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