I’m not averse to experimental, bizarre, or avant-garde theatre, and I came to this performance prepared to see almost anything. Unfortunately, what I saw from Shiny Floor Shiny Ceiling at the Chelsea Theatre left me with very few positive things to say. It was a dreary mix of spoken word, synthesized music and uninspired video projections. This kind of performance can be done well – with talented singers, inspired and rich music, provocative visuals, and a unifying theme to tie the whole thing together. Sadly, Andrew Poppy’s project fails on each of these points.
Poppy was meant to be some sort of MC for this variety show: an 'opera entertainment' featuring 'unconfirmed ghosts and pessoas'. That’s about all that’s holding the piece together in terms of narrative: from song to song, a different character slowly walks onto the stage and delivers an insipid vocal number. Poppy introduces each ghost and stares through his ever-present sunglasses, as if channelling their spirit and understanding their pain. But the ghosts fail to convey any emotion and as a result, Poppy’s MC-ing became hokey and I was completely unmoved. The ghosts and MC trade musical instruments and props in torturous slow motion, as if by simply slowing down their movement, it would gain significance.
If this wasn’t meant to be a play in the traditional sense, I hoped that the music would be worth listening to. But the nicest way I can describe it is dated by about thirty years. It was a mix of off-beat synthesizers, keyboard loops, irritating castanets, about three chords on an electric guitar – and I nearly burst out laughing when Poppy brought out the tiny piano. The singers’ voices aren’t bad, and I’ll admit they did their best with the tuneless melodies, but the problem lies in the writing and orchestration, which was so couched in experimental 1980s electronic loops as to be robbed of any redeeming qualities. Poppy moodily moves about the stage, playing sporadic notes on his array of instruments, adding virtually nothing to the prerecorded soundtrack.
“Stepanov The Notator of Dances” was far from tragic and more unintentionally comic, while “Henry Fortune The Lucky Horse,” attempting and utterly failing to channel some kind of early-career Nick Cave drearily warbled his 'knacker yard blues'. If this is 'opera entertainment,' then it falls at the first hurdle: the music rarely reaches the level of bearable, let alone the heights of the operatic.
Perhaps a different setting could have helped the show. The staging included two gold, bead-curtained doors from whence the ghosts could exit and enter, and a transparent screen on which film clips of guest singers or floating words were projected. These were clichéd, distracting, and visually uninteresting: an extended closeup of a singing face doesn’t look any better when it’s filmed in negative. “Persephone: Myth and Marionette” was a repetitious affair, with letters spelling ‘Persephone’ projected onto the screen in varying orders and rhythms. The lyrics are just as dismal: “Persephone makes me – scream. Persephone makes me – dream”. "The Seamstress of the Corridor's" theme of 'unravelling' ends with a projection of a messy scribble – not particularly inventive or profound.
The screen between the audience and performers became symbolic of this self-indulgent project, overly protected from any kind of exterior input or appeal. I have plenty of time for performance art, but this entire show felt like an early project that should never have been staged. Poppy’s music feels outdated, and by using it as the centrepiece, the potentially interesting premise utterly collapses. Uninspired staging and acting compound this failing, and in the end, we are left with a mere attempt at entertainment.