Review: About Us – Could the so-called Festival of Brexit win over Remain-voting Caernarfon?
Ifan Morgan Jones
It was perhaps brave to take Unboxed’s show About Us to the heart of Caernarfon as one of its first tour dates.
Still popularly known as ‘the Brexit Festival’, Unboxed may not have expected to receive a particularly warm welcome in a Welsh language heartland that voted strongly against leaving the EU.
The crowd on the Maes weren’t particularly jam-packed either – there may have been about 600 there – but that may have had more to do with the weather than any anti-Brexit sentiment.
However much money you spend on an open-air art installation you are at the mercy of the elements and it was hard to believe that I had been eating ice cream with the kids in the garden on Sunday.
It was lashing it down in Caernarfon with freezing rain, and the occasional drop of it is still eeking its way out of my hair onto the keyboard as I write this.
Unboxed may have to wait for clearer and milder nights to gauge what kind of reaction their “spectacular light show and multimedia installation” has had in this part of the world.
Unboxed lighting up Caernarfon castle pic.twitter.com/Gb0vd3IAoP
— Ifan Morgan Jones (@ifanmj) March 30, 2022
My view is that as a light show, About Us did its job. The highlights were certainly those parts where the projection made full use of its canvass, Caernarfon castle.
There was one stand-out moment in particular when the projection turned the castle into a hieroglyphics covered Egyptian temple that was genuinely spectacular and which I won’t forget in a hurry.
There were other times when I felt that I was essentially watching a short animated feature, but beamed onto the side of a castle rather than on a cinema screen.
Beyond the visuals the show itself was nothing original, telling the story of 13.8 billion years from the Big Bang to the present day. This involved, predictably, a number of shots of galaxies, sprouting plants, amoebas and evolving fish.
There was also some mostly inaudible poetry. From what I did catch I got the feeling that in an attempt to distance themselves from the nationalism of Brexit they had gone too far in the other direction into a New Age ‘aren’t we all stardust in the end?’ style message that wasn’t half as profound as it thought it was.
What the show lacked, I felt, was any real character or story arc. It was essentially just a series of attempts to dazzle the audience visually. There was no humour or pathos. Perhaps in an attempt not to offend anyone, they failed to offer any real substance at all.
The lack of Welsh language content felt a little disappointing too. There was some at the beginning and a snippet here and there, but it felt was rather tokenistic in a town where 90% of the residents can speak the language.
If the poetry disappointed, some of the audio was great, with Côr Dre adding their own vocal performance and a much needed human element to add some depth to the flashing lights projected in front of us.
It was very effective at times but at others, I wasn’t quite sure what was coming from them and what was part of the loud backing track coming from the speakers dotted all around us.
So, worth a watch, and a listen? It doesn’t cost anything that you haven’t already paid for through your taxes so it’s worth popping over if you’re in the area. You will certainly never get an opportunity to see Caernarfon castle in the same light.
But keep an eye on the weather reports – you’ll enjoy it much more without a waterfall of ice-cold water streaming down your face!
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