Rajni Shah’s Glorious @ The Barbican

Written for Total Theatre

Rajni Shah stands in the centre of an empty stage; a statue on a plinth, her velveteen voice fills the Silk Street Theatre easing us gently into the show to come, ‘And then the stories start to fall…And then the songs begin’.

There is something very soporific about this beginning; it is a tempo that is established firmly from the start and one which is militantly maintained throughout. Even in the face of a spattering of honky-tonk piano within the overture, Shah’s 3 act musical is languid.

Shah’s immobile body remains solidly still at the centre of this work. Her contributors, all volunteers from London, enter one by one and grow their stories and their melodies around her like off shots from a trunk. 6 ordinary folk read letters, the results from interventions preceding this piece facilitated by Shah; their correspondence standing as poems to their disparate lives and loves.

Students from Guildhall School of Music and Drama make up the impressive band that invades the stage for Acts 2 and 3; the tonal arrangements are their doing from then on in. The music is beautiful and as varied as the complex city and people within it that this version of Glorious is in honour of.

But at the heart of this work there is a feeling of undeniable lacking. Shah’s songs, which are the backbone of the piece, skim the surface of any real meaning. Disappointingly she has missed the mark between poignancy and cliché.  The feeling of solemnity that dogs Glorious does it no favours, whilst the stories and music are on occasion funny Shah herself communicates a sense of worthiness that becomes irritating.

At the end an exchange of daffodils flickers back into life the flame of potential at the core of this musical but it is too late. Glorious should be a celebration of the individuals that have bravely taken the leap to be part of it, for now, despite all Shah’s best intentions, it simply feels like it has encased them in a tomb.

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