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Empty Orchestra at The Place

There are certain people who put themselves forward for karaoke, particularly in a work situation – the ones who think they are fairly decent singers but would be savaged on one of those Saturday evening talent contests on television, and frankly, rightly so. There are, of course, some people who are very good at singing, but in the end, for every Susan Boyle, there are countless others who are, well, not Susan Boyle. This production throws the kitchen sink and then some at the subject of karaoke, with a wide range of songs, most if not all of which are recognisable to many.

Keown. Photo Lewys Holt. Empty Orchestra Leeds.
Keown. Photo Lewys Holt. Empty Orchestra Leeds.

Between them, Luke Divall, Lewys Holt and Inari Hulkkonen embody various karaoke characters: the overconfident ones; the ones who aren’t wholly (if at all) familiar with the song they are singing and therefore rush through some of the lyrics, or sing them – to be blunt – badly; the ones who lack self-esteem for some reason or other (perhaps they’re only up there because they lost a bet) and need encouragement; the ones who are more than a little intense, singing (or trying to sing) something that isn’t quite in keeping with a lively social event. What they don’t have is the drunkard, which overall makes the show an entertaining but comfortable ride.

Even the earnest moments are ultimately comical, and for the open-minded, this is fascinating stuff. Some of the movements are far too elegant and refined to come across as spontaneous by any stretch of the imagination, though this serves as a reminder that the audience is watching something carefully thought through. The apparent ‘bad’ singing, whenever it happens, is done well, in the sense that it is relatively easy to screech or whisper through a song in such a way that makes others want to place their fingers in their ears, or even leave the room for a few minutes. It is quite another to perform ‘poorly’ (inverted commas mine) but in a way that is itself entertaining.

Fortunately or unfortunately there is an opportunity for the audience to sing along, too – words are provided, karaoke style, on a projector. As someone who never volunteers for karaoke, it was interesting to observe and participate, at the same time, what it is to sing an entire chart music tune, complete with all its repetitions. It seemed to me to be a combination of affirmation and catharsis.

There are moments of quiet, whether in the form of unaccompanied singing or dancing without singing, and a moment so loud people in my row did cup their ears after all. Their rendering of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’ is a hoot, as they give one another the literal run-around. It’s not a song one would ordinarily expect to even smile at, let alone chortle through. Pretty much the whole show was a case of ‘expect the unexpected’, as it pushed boundaries, presenting a full range of human emotion in this spirited and sparkling production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Three dancers perform their favourite karaoke hits. As each dancer takes their turn at the mic, the remaining two take to the space, becoming backing dancers, lip-syncing and encouraging each other into the spotlight. Through the revealing act of singing, Empty Orchestra creates a safe space to embrace both the wild, diva-like highs and deep, uncomfortable feelings of cringe inherent to karaoke.

See the pains, pleasures and coping strategies of each dancer unfold as they share their joy, timidity and power. Featuring classics ranging from Dolly Parton’s Jolene to Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence. And yes – you’re allowed to sing along.

Choreography: Lewys Holt:
Performance: Luke Divall, Lewys Holt, Inari Hulkkonen
Choreographic assistance / Photography and film: Eleanor Sikorski
Lighting design: Seth Rook Williams
Vocal coach: Jenny Moore
Producer: Daniel Nicholas/Discerning Nights
Pastoral Support: Temitope AjoseCutting
Marketing: Natalie Beech
Music: Last Christmas – Wham, Fast Car – Tracy Chapman, Varrella Virran – Kirka, Dancing in the Moonlight – Toploader, Jolene – Dolly Parton, One Way or Another – Blondie, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing – Aerosmith, Dancing On My Own – Robyn, Everywhere – Fleetwood Mac, The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel, I Just Called to Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder


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