"original, multi-media, curious history presentation"
by Frank Hill for remotegoat on 26/07/17

The other day I was watching an old, obscure British drama series that had been made in the 1960s. I know it’s sad, but I love that kind of thing - and I remembered seeing its original transmission as a child. The opening scene shocked me. A woman was taken out of her prison cell and hanged for murder. What shocked me was the reminder that within my lifetime people had actually been institutionally killed for committing crimes.

But then, we’ve been killing people as punishment for centuries. Tyburn (an area of London encompassing Marble Arch and Edgeware Road) had been a place of execution for over seven hundred years. It’s an area with a very dark history. Even today, estate agents relish phrases like ‘making a killing’, or 'it’s a great place to hang your hat’. So perhaps it’s fitting that Daniel Merrill, The Dead Rat Orchestra and Lisa Knapp, use Tyburn as a focus for their multi-media, kaleidoscopic, sounds, images and music experience, ‘Tyburnia’ (which I saw at HOME in Manchester).

An amazing experience it is, too, as Daniel controls three film projectors, flitting from one to another with a spontaneity that creates a different show every night. Surreal, abstract, gruesome and funny in turn, the story of Tyburn is told in an imaginative, exciting way with music from the band and a sometimes bewildering soundtrack that incorporates everything from soapbox rants to primal screams.

All images, music and stories relate to the place itself, though some connections are rather obscure. Luckily, the after-show questions and answers session provided a great opportunity for some surprising clarification. And all the folk music played dates from the eighteenth century and earlier. Though I did strongly doubt the origins of a song titled, ‘Alas For Unfortunate Tony’, accompanied flickering images of Tony Blair. But no, it really was written in the 1700s, and coincidentally had resonances for today’s audience - as did much else in the performance.

Did you know that the last Catholic to be martyred at Tyburn was Saint Oliver Plunkett, executed in 1551? No, neither did I. And I certainly didn’t know that parts of his body are taken in procession every year in Drogheda, Ireland to commemorate his martyrdom. This performance is full of bizarre and interesting facts that I’d never come across before.

Occasional onscreen captions kept us on track and focussed - though ironically, problems with one of the projectors did render some captions a blur (and so, not focussed), which was a little frustrating. But as Daniel explained, the equipment he was using was quite old and sometimes temperamental.

If you like something different, and are willing to explore an often ignored aspect of our history, presented in a stylish and exciting way, then this is for you. We really enjoyed it.

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