Mozart Undone – Betty Nansen Teatret: Barbican Theatre, London, 25 February 2014

Zip up!

Whaddya mean we're not doing the Hippopotamus Song? Mozart Undone is not for the faint-hearted.

Whaddya mean we’re not doing the Hippopotamus Song? The Mozart Undone cast vent their frustration with an array of melodramatic but still scary gestures.

I’m going to be honest and admit that I didn’t know what the hell was going on in Betty Nansen Teatret, Cederholm & Hellemann Bros’ Mozart Undone. It might be a work of genius, it might be a load of codswallop; it was certainly like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

I’ll try and explain. A group of people gather around a piano in a room with a serious leak problem and sing some rather whimsical songs where the words are indistinct but everything sounds reasonably jolly and charming. Then some clothes start coming off to be cleverly converted into wigs, the plumbing hits storm control, the band goes electric and the songs become more sinister. After the interval Anja Vang Kragh’s costumes transform into wonderful 18th century pastiches, the songs go everywhere from techno to tango and five leaks eventually spring forth from the ceiling.

All the while buckets of water are thrown about, mud smeared on bodies and glitter tossed joyfully into the air. People sing while trapped in bell-jars, disguised as punk flamingos or from within and without a bath-tub. They vocalise with animal sounds, coughs and insinuation. It’s by turns creepy, charming and chaotic. Quite what the point of Nikolaj Cederholm’s ‘theatre concert’ is lies beyond me; I don’t even know if I enjoyed or hated it.

The Hellemann Brothers’ music was inventive reworkings of Mozart. Some of it was easy to identify but many tunes were virtually unrecognisable in their pub rock, soft jazz or power ballad form. The musicians were fantastic, the singing was fabulous and the variety of musical styles on display from just a five-piece band was astonishing.

Parts of the show were distinctly distasteful, such as Under The Heartwood Tree where an older man appears to force himself on a young girl. Other moments were sublime – the mother singing Rockaby at the end sans microphone was achingly beautiful. The mud people were disturbing and a lot of the humour was puerile innuendo but the use of space and creative expansion of small ideas was occasionally exceptional – the paper birds, for example, were pure baroque.

So, genius or codswallop? Does it matter? For good or evil, the memory of Mozart Undone will stay in my head for a long time.

Gerard Davis

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