The stage is simple, a black box theatre set-up that is relatively undressed. Eight swivelling black stools, one per performer, are dispersed evenly over the stage. The cast inhabit one, maybe two characters each, and through solos, duets, monologues and ensemble numbers, they showcase a range of people narrating life-changing moments or reflecting on a meaningful time in their lives. The show boasts a stellar cast of performers singing with an unfaltering passion, to the point where they could tone down their theatricality purely to connect more simply and genuinely to the subject matter. Overall, they are beautiful singers and deliver heartfelt and raw performances. They work incredibly well as an ensemble, no one outshining another, but deliver a collective, cohesive intention drawn from the text.
The songs are entertaining and humbling, and the music and lyrics are simple and honest. What is striking about the entire concept of the show is the use of songs and music to play with elements of scientific theory. The application of Einstein’s work in the lyrics, though incorporated into human relationships, seems at odds with the highly theatrical and emotional use of the musical genre. This seems to be because one would assume science is unemotional, and existing in a rational space far from the complexity and emotional turmoil of human relationships. Yet this show bravely weaves these two possibilities together and the confidence with which they deliver this proves its validity. The play on scientific theory is also not confined to any singular narrative or one or two human connections, but an array of characters and voices, making the piece episodic and reflective. This draws the audience away from a conventional response to a musical, which is usually pure emotional investment. Instead, we are caught between an intellectual stimulation from the text and the moving, highly vulnerable performances and music.
It feels as though there is the potential to go further with the subject matter, but when looking at the broad spectrum of human relationships, there always will be. It is a strong, robust show that holds its own in the space it creates and the stories it tells. The partnership of Neil Bartram and Brian Hill is clearly a force to be reckoned with, since the two are also working on a musical adaptation of Bedknobs and Broomsticks for Disney, as well as having collaborated previously on other esteemed projects. Hill’s book with Bartram’s music and lyrics come together with ease, producing a collection of ideas that are textually thought-provoking with all the heart of a musical. All the songs shine in their own way, much like the performers.
In the simplicity of the staging, director Christopher Lane has highlighted the guts of the show and the passion of the performers. The fairly naked space allows the audience to focus on the performance itself, drawing our connection (in line with the theme of the show) from other people, as opposed to spectacle and design. The actors are dressed in their own unique style, neither necessarily on trend nor recognisably retro, giving the audience a sense of them as individuals without trapping them into any costumed character or stereotype. Though simple, this really gives the performers an individual identity that doesn’t interfere with the ensemble, and instead achieves a relative likeness, one might say, with the members of the audience.
Relative Motion’s The Theory of Relativity is a heartfelt and well-rounded show, drawing out an impassioned ensemble to deliver an impressive performance. It’s not your standard musical, playing with thoughts and theory in a highly theatrical format, but the show proves this is something to be embraced, not shied away from. Though there is the potential for more, an inkling to go further, this curiosity is precisely why you’re sure they’ve hit all the right notes in the first place.