I’m tempted to write ‘self-consciously wacky’, but self-conscious’ isn’t really the correct wording. They’re conscious alright, but it’s acknowledged with a tight shrug of excitement. It’s a novelty that hasn’t worn off for anyone yet.
The costumes themselves weren’t a big reveal; in any sense really. If you know one thing about The Fantasy Orchestra it’s that they like a costume. A grown man in a maternity dress leaning around a pillar waving at his friends? This is the sort of environment where that doesn’t qualify for a double-take. You can’t help but smile. It works, their pre-performance excitement; it simply creates a momentum that the rest of us mortals trot to keep up with.
We are introduced to the full orchestra, section by section. It’s left to us, the audience, to decrypt and imbibe the visual feasts presented by each group. The themes were based solely on the clothes worn by each section which varied between players tremendously. You say Bird Theme; to one woodwind player that meant full papier-mache bird head, homemade feather cape, yellow tights and yellow bird feet. To the man next to her this meant a pin-badge of an eagle. And who’s to say who got it right? Because ‘right’ is not the point at all. To go somewhere where ‘right’ was the issue you’d need to walk through at least three sets of doors.
The issue here is community, because these musicians are first and foremost people. In fact, their website invites you, me, anyone that can play or sing to join them. And this is why I sat and watched and wished, and sort of believed, that I was friends with every single person on stage. This is someone’s mother, girlfriend, guitar teacher, Brownie leader, bartender – what have you – playing their instrument with glitter on their face. An instrument they have spent years learning. The perfect combination of work and play.
I must pause on the choir’s entrance in the opening. One person would sing a note, naming it, and everyone would sing it back until they reached the stage. Here, their initial to’ing and fro’ing of everybody’s favourite notes culminated in a beautiful, harmonic triumph – as if, but not quite, by accident.
So the personalities and quirks of the orchestra oozed until it created a new sort of reality. One where people really could play the bongos while drinking a pint of bitter, where stages were so jam-packed that the conductor had to drag himself onstage as one would pull their self out of a swimming pool, where string ensembles play full-length arrangements of Bohemian Rhapsody wearing Freddie Mercury moustaches and where – brace yourself – percussion is front-centre of an orchestra.
As always, The Fantasy Orchestra pulled off its usual madness. Once the (quite possibly only) people to make Leonard Cohen’s music and joyful experience, now the culprits for my fixation on Final Moments of the Universe by Richard Dawson.
Watch them, buy their merchandise, join them, whatever. Just be near them in some capacity. You can find them via https://www.fantasyorchestra.org/
You can thank me later. S.H