Friday, 12 October 2012

Quinn in time

Although Biding Time (Remix) follows the story of Louise Quinn's personal story of music industry horror, she has spent most of the past decade reinventing herself as a post-modern singer-songwriter. Leader of A Band Called Quinn, she wrote and performed the music for Vanishing Point's Beggar's Opera, curated a series of cabaret nights that replaced the neo-vaudeville with serious and funny acts inspired as much by Live Art, has worked with Mischief La Bas and collaborated with Kid Loco.

Taking up Pippa Bailey's original play - which addressed Bailey's frustrations at the entertainment industry from an actor's perspective, Quinn hooked up with Grid Iron's Ben Harrison and a cast that includes legendary drag king Diane Torr, Gaelic film-maker Uisdean Murray, alongside her band and young actor Martin McCormick, and remixed the script into a fresh study of record label dishonesty.

Quinn cleverly uses the traditional format of the gig to structure Biding Time: the filmed and performed interludes - involving McCormick as a sinister and sometimes sweet white rabbit - push along the narrative which is illustrated by a song cycle. Moving from the band's enthusiasm and good fortune, towards their inevitable rejection by a music industry that is lecherous, dishonest and manipulative, Biding Time touches on juicy political issues - the objectification of women in music, the obsession with style over substance, the vogue for alternative thinkers to be swept away by an environmental evangelism - without ever distracting from the powerful craft of the band.

Playing heavily on Quinn's ambiguous persona - she recalls the alienated glamour of David Byrne's early
Talking Heads' stage persona - the set is heard not through the usual PA system but through the fashionable silent disco equipment. Personal headphones replace amps, perfect for relaying the intimacy of Quinn's signature style, a gentle version of New Wave rock. Inevitably, the single mimed moment represents the song encouraged by the label, the mainstream appeal, distorting Quinn's melancholic vocal into a stereotypical disco queen, substituting her idiosyncratic songwriting for a generic female sex object.

Quinn's story - the programme comments that "any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely intentional" - is most engaging when dealing with gender politics. Aside from her transformation into a Madonna clone, the decision to cast Diane Torr as Mr Big emphasises the masculine culture of the record label: the insinuating lechery of various other music industry characters - again performed by McCormick - places Quinn at the mercy of a voracious assembly. The presence of the White Rabbit alludes to an Alice in Wonderland adventure, with Quinn cast as the innocent abroad. But like vanishing Point's Wonderland, this Wonderland is less fantastic than exploitative.

The music, the method of amplification and the episodic story-telling mesh effectively with Harrison's subtle direction and Bailey's original tale: this is experimental theatre that avoids aggression for a compassionate disappointment. The narrative is advanced as much by mimed, symbolic set pieces as the words - which include the voices of disappointed fans, business figures, an idealistic hippy and Quinn's mother,a constant dour worry. At heart, it's another showcase for A Band Called Quinn's talent, filtered through a structure that offers at least one possible escape route from the predictability of the rock gig, and an opening for other theatre-makers to explore the medium's potential.

No comments :

Post a comment