Hymns for Robots
- Gareth K Vile
- 29 August 2018
This article is from 2018
A celebration of Delia Derbyshire, electronic pioneer
The reclaiming of recent history to acknowledge the marginalised importance of women has been a major theme of this Fringe: Delia Derbyshire, who is now recognised as the composer of the Dr Who theme (a credit fraught with discussion of not only her exclusion but the BBC's attitude towards electronic music itself), receives the biographical treatment in a production that does credit to her brilliance in a manner that respects her idiosyncratic career.
Imitating the format of the kind of radio performance that Derbyshire herself would appreciate – despite a strong central performance from Jessie Coller that incorporates an elegant physicality – in a combination of live electronic music and spoken recollections. Recognising how her life shaped her music, Hymns presents Derbyshire as a determined woman, sometimes difficult but always passion, who refuses to conform to either social or aesthetic traditions. Her behaviour is hardly outrageous by modern standards – her friendship with a gay man becomes almost a familiar Hollywood trope – but her use of accident and miles of tape in creating some of the greatest electronic experiments has left a legacy of a restless, probing intellect.
Aside from a little scene-setting, and the intrusion of the kind of sounds that Derbyshire cherished, the narrative largely follows her life, and relates her achievements to periods of her life, inevitably concentrated on her work in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Never flinching from the sexist assumptions that blighted her career, Hymns is an optimist and easy reminder of how hard women had to fight to be respected, but also a charming hour that memorialises a pioneer of the sounds that surround becoming the sounds that astound.