Jo Verrent has her dream to see Jez Colborne with Mind the Gap perform in the wilds of Ilkley Moor dashed, yet is left with the desire to hear more and more of their collaborations in the future.
What is it about outdoor shows and June? You’d think you’d have a reasonable chance of at least one of three nights being able to be outside. The gods of weather had however spoken last week ruling that Irresistible by Jez Colborne and Mind the Gap would take place indoors rather than on Ilkley Moor’s spectacular rock formation known as the the Cow and Calf.
So instead of walking up a rocky path, we were ushered into Studio One at Mind the Gap’s base in Bradford. The studio was dark. A braiser lit a group of huddling hobos, some blocks, the stage area in darkness… it wasn’t the anticipated earthy setting. But then Jez Colborne began to sing.
I’ve known Jez for over 15 years and I have never heard him sing like this.
The piece begins unaccompanied – soulful, deep, stunning. You are immediately sucked into his world, his journey, and from this point on who cares where you are – moor or theatre, street or foyer. The journey played out through a cycle of songs is a simple one we can all share. We are all looking for that place where we feel at home. We all have journeys to make and things to battle on our way to get there.
Sound of the Sirens, the cycle’s second song, is rightfully the signature piece for the show. It describes Jez’s battle to overcome the sirens – literally as well as metaphorically. He used to be afraid of sirens, having lived near one for many years. He then decided to stop fearing them and start listening, resulting in a fascination, and an uncanny ability to mimic them. In the piece, four air raid sirens are used, a number of hand-held sirens and also vuvuzelas. The noise is not though overwhelming. It is controlled and supported by other sounds and the dramatic narrative unfolding. After all, which of Jez’s crew will be seduced by the sirens? In this regard, a great duo of backing singers along with a signer provide an auditory and visual counterpoint for all the songs.
Although it is Jez’s show, and he is the principal focus, he is standing on the shoulders of a much larger cast. Mind the Gap members play the parts of hobos and crew, musicians and singers, all of whom provide perfectly pitched support. I am always amazed at the professionalism of Mind the Gap’s actors. I suppose I shouldn’t be by now. But in between seeing them, I am made aware at other performances that there are still some companies working with learning-disabled performers where non-disabled people appear to shepherd people about rather than train them in the essential arts of theatre craft in order to perform independently.
The setting indoors was excellence – not a comedown at all. There was a carefully thought through use of levels, projection and placement to give the audience an immersive experience. Mind the Gap obviously had prescience and had a well-devised Plan B.
And Jez was magnificent. There really is no other word for it. His voice is astounding by anyone’s standards and the range of styles he showcases and so clearly enjoys make for a set that is challenging and uplifting. Matching him with backing singers just makes him raise his game still further. They all blended seamlessly. Pure musicianship.
Unlimited, the fund which commissioned Irresistible, was designed to stretch disabled creatives in this country as well as providing them with an opportunity to do what they’ve only ever dreamed of doing. In this piece, we witness that stretch up close and personal. In Irresistible - Call of the Sirens, Jez Colborne has bloomed from solo musician to the musical director of a whole piece.
And that piece ends with Jez leaving, singing about Moving On, surrounded by the cast, with all of them, and then us too, waving our arms in stadium-like support.
Don’t move on too quickly Jez. The partnership you have with Mind the Gap has developed to such a level through this piece that it feels to me that there is so much more to do and to say. And I want to be watching, for many years to come yet.
Jez Colborne with Mind the Gap next perform Irresistible - Call of the Sirens at the National Theatre, Southbank on 5 and 6 September.