- Gareth K Vile
- 12 August 2021
Cerebral music-theatre Fringe show about family history, science of the brain and Greek mythology
Max Barton's journey into family history, Greek mythology, the science of the brain, and impact of Alzheimer's is itself a ghost of its previous incarnation which featured an expanded band. Following a familiar music-theatre format – storytelling matched with a song cycle – Styx describes the experience of Barton's grandmother as she begins to experience the illness and memory loss, while Barton himself investigates her biography with her departed husband. Reflections from the story of Orpheus and Eurydice accompany scientific details about how the brain produces and processes memory; this lends Barton's personal journey wider meaning, offering a gentle and melancholic meditation on how personality and memory collaborate and, above all, how music can be the most important experience for both.
Without the extended band – Second Body are reduced to a two-piece – the songs lack the emotional punch promised by its story: they circle around the subject until the final episodes, after Barton connects his own compositions with one of his grandfather's melodies and performs an immediate, emotive lament. The myth never quite settles comfortably alongside Barton's investigations into his family, and it is the scientific facts that are most enlightening. The recorded voice of his grandmother – charming, playful and self-conscious – contrasts dramatically with Barton's earnest questioning, setting up a dynamic that belies the obvious love that inspired this production.
Styx comes across as a cerebral examination of a case study, most intriguing when Barton uncovers his grandparents' record shop and 'underground' club. The coincidences that he discovers between his career and their lives can't quite make the connection between Orpheus and science of memory; still, concise descriptions of the brain's workings are brief, elegant and informative. By turns charming, educational and fascinating, Styx doesn't quite demonstrate how music can be a complete emotional and defining experience.
Styx, Assembly George Square Gardens, until Sunday 15 August, 6.40pm, £15–£16 (£14–£15).