by Rachel Beaumont

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Fish out of water: Berberian Sound Studio at the Donmar Warehouse

Berberian Sound Studio
Donmar Warehouse
Circle standing (unallocated), £10
27 March 2019
Donmar page

Against my better judgement I gave the obviously-not-meant-to-be stage version of Berberbian Sound Studio a shot, lured like a moth that should know better to the flame of Lore Lixenberg. Curse you, better judgement. Why must you be always so smug?

I’ve definitely seen worse things than Joel Horwood and Tom Scutt’s stage adaptation of Berberian Sound Studio. But when, even now, the evidence freshly before me, I can’t truly believe someone would adapt Peter Strickland’s filmy film about filming for theatre, I feel my indignation rising like heartburn. Why? What on earth could be the point?

In a fairer frame of mind I should concede that the only real source of indignation should be on behalf of Lixenberg, who appears for about two minutes in a one-off cheap jump scare (that isn’t even scary because HELLO we’re not in a cinema) doing randomly wiggly woogling that is probably how Lixenberg passes the time when she’s bored i.e. it’s impressive and fun but doesn’t even prod the surface of Lixenberg’s gifts as a musician.

Why hire Lixenberg? I thought her presence indicated that Horwood and Scutt might have something intangible in mind for their adaptation, something strange and different, something, in short, of artistic weight. Everything about the actual show suggests that they just wanted someone to do some weird shit, like that bit in the film, and Lixenberg’s name came up (which leaves the cliffhanger of why Lixenberg wanted to do it).

The show itself suggests Horwood and Scutt wanted to do something fun about foley artists, because foley is fun. And Strickland’s film is a pretty fun thing about foley, so that’s a good start, and it is relatively recent and was relatively popular and in new theatre needs every little helps.

And so we get to see some people to do foley, which is fun, because foley is fun – although it’s actually kind of the same foley familiar from the film Berberian Sound Studio, and it’s kind of less fun than it is there, because that’s a film and this is a play. And aside from the foley we get Strickland’s somewhat aimless story shorn of all its dread because the dread-building techniques Horwood and Scutt are film techniques, not theatre techniques.

I have seen worse things. The acting is all fine. The creative team seem all to have done their best. But I might not have seen many more pointless things.

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