Music is Torture

Louise Quinn’s ‘Music is Torture’ is a dark comedy that follows the efforts of “has-been” music producer Jake, played by Andy Clark, to retain an authenticity in a music industry that has become increasingly valued by sales revenue as a measure of success.The use of his dance track “Kill Them All as a means of torture, appeared to incite an ethical debate over the efficacy on the war against terrorism.

This had the potential to be an interesting play, if it had focused on the complexity of individual accountability, vis-à-vis the way in which people often overlook their contributions to war crimes that tracks such as “Kill Them All” are used to promote. Unfortunately, the production was artificial and crass.

The exposition was unnecessarily long, taking forty minutes in an hour-long play to build up to trite jokes about mainstream music, and awkward hip-thrusts and squealing pig noises. The endless sound-checks and song breaks were meant to emphasise the stagnancy of Jake’s life in the aptly-named Limbo studio, but they were repetitive and distracted from the storyline. Jake’s endless cynical monologues on his failures, echoed by the breathy one-liners of Louise Quinn as part of Limbo’s only band (A Band Called Quinn), were cliché and added little to the action. Jake comes across as a self-entitled indie rocker who expects to succeed purely because he isn’t doing what everyone else is doing. This individuality is vital to music, but the songs that accompanied the show were indistinguishable from each other, and could have been about the price of butter for all the intelligibility of the lyrics. Given the context of the play, Quinn’s use of the production to plug her own band was either deeply ironic or completely out of place.

The dialogue was predictable, and Jake’s friend Nick (Harry Ward) was unlikeable and boorish. The debate on whether Jake was going to accept selling out to the American government lasted only about five minutes, and culminated in Ward shoving a ball of paper into Clark’s mouth and leading him around the stage on all fours like a suckling pig.

What made the production all the more disappointing was the fact that it was clear how much thought had been put into it. The visual effects were extensive, complementing the meticulously-designed set. Torture motifs were scattered throughout – the bright lights flashing at the audience like interrogation lamps; the abrupt transformations of Nick from friend to torturer. What made for a promising evening instead had me checking my watch every ten minutes, anxiously anticipating the end.

It is disappointing to watch a play that believes it is edgy and poignant. While Clark rolls around the stage lamenting his supposedly Faustian dilemma, the audience wonders how he could possibly consider allowing anyone to use his ‘art’ as a weapon. Of course, in a play like this, the audience is meant to be uncomfortable – the subject matter of torture is not intended to sit well with anyone. Yet the audience’s discomfort had less to do with the ethical debate, and more with the crude production that we were presented with. The play might be improved by removing the out-of-place comedy and focusing more on the topic at hand.

Frankly, I expected more from the Traverse. Known as Edinburgh’s hub for new writing, it should be a hotbed of fresh talent, curated by creative directors who know the difference between a good play and an overdramatic farce. Music is Torture? This certainly was.

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