‘It comes to just notes.’ The bewildered reporter stands spotlit on stage, shifting uncomfortably in the limelight as Megson strike up an invariably upbeat tune. On stage, the tension between reporter Kieran Knowles’ righteous anger and the heartbreaking harmonies from Teesside folk duo Megson (Debs and Stu Hanna) grabs the audience like a six-inch headline. From the get-go, the audience understands this collaboration (Knowles – a New York Times Critics’ Pick – and Megson the four times BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards nominees) is going to be something special as the tones of John Parker’s bass blend seamlessly into the narrative.
What’s it all for?
Anyone who has been to a Megson gig knows the formula: strong songs, lyrics which hide questions within jokes, and the husband/wife banter in-between (which must include at least one comment about Stu’s wayward hair). Knowles takes that formula, subverts it and frees the duo to parody themselves by placing them in a gig within the play (which in turn gives the reporter the opportunity to question, “What’s it all for?” “Just to sell CDs?” Or, in his case, newspapers?).
Towards the end of the show, the young reporter shockingly discovers the power of the words he’s written. There is an embarrassingly long pause…the sort of pause you’d normally fill with banter.
When an algorithm decides what we like, when fear of the local Facebook group determines how councils act, when AI is not the story but writing it, what is the point? We endlessly scroll down to find the answer, or at least something more bearable.
An up-beat end
But this is a Megson gig. It has to end on an up-beat. ‘And finally‘, is their jokey critique of the so familiar thank-God-we-got-through-that bizarrely touching human interest story at the end of the ten o’clock news. Tonight, the audience leaves to the strains of ‘Good Times Will Come Again.’
In a world full of trivia – when those who demand change may soon be imprisoned for slow walking or sometimes, like Jo Cox, shot – Stu and Debs Hanna have the honesty to question, ‘What are we trying to say?’
Is this the end of the story for Megson? It feels more like a slow step forward. I can’t wait to see where they are heading.
Scribbled in the dark, half of my notes for this review are totally illegible. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.