REVIEW: Empty Room by Miriam Gould at the Cockpit Theatre

Miriam Gould as Rachel Gould
Photo credit: India Roper-Evans

Empty Room by Miriam Gould
Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone, 8 August 2018, 2nd night of 3. Review by Sebastian Scotney) 

Is this a coincidence, or possibly something spookier? This week I have witnessed not just one but TWO dramatic re-enactments of the same symphony, Shostakovich’s 9th.

Monday night’s Prom with Aurora Orchestra had broadcaster Tom Service and conductor Nicholas Collon probing the work's double nature, its light-and-dark, its tragi-comedy, followed by a wonderfully energetic live performance played from memory. Gripping stuff. Tonight I went to the second of three nights at the Cockpit Theatre of Miriam Gould’s one-woman show Empty Room. It also dealt with the very same music, which the actor was seeing through the eyes of one of the three characters she plays, herself as a teenager obsessing about the Russian symphonist.

Miriam Gould is London-based, and a regular member of the Little Bulb Theatre Company. (I reviewed their Orpheus show in which she is a cast and band member.)

This show is a family memoir in which, with great candour, she explores the legacy that her parents have left her. It is a powerful exploration of how an involvement in music overshadows everything  – relationships, grief, personal identity – in the lives of a family.

Her father – whom she also portrays as a shivering, fast-talking, intense character dealing with heroin addiction, was the saxophonist Sal (Salvatore) Nistico. He was born of Italian-American extraction in Syracuse, New York State, in 1938, and died in Berne in 1991. He was a member of one of Woody Herman’s herds, and a blistering presence on tenor saxophone (try THIS !!) Her mother is the renowned singer and educator Rachel Gould, the child of two holocaust survivors, who made a classic record with Chet Baker, All Blues, and has also been a prominent educator in the Netherlands for several years. The two of them, plus the angsty teenager obsessing about Shostakovich 9 are the three characters played by Miriam Gould as she tells the story of her family. 

I had reservations before going to this show. Would an actor narrating something quite so personal come across as anything other than self-indulgent? Well, the answer is that the show can and does transcend all that. The issues which it takes on will fascinate anyone interested in the psychology of music. And Gould's acting craft, notably the deft way in which she transitions and transforms from one of her three endearing characters to another, is miraculous. And she also sings and plays the violin – very well.

There is one more night. This is a jazz show in a space that through the involvement of NYJO and Jez Nelson's Jazz in the Round has its own jazz identity, and is familiar to London's jazz fans. For whom there can surely be only one option, and one night left: note the early start time, 7pm, and GO SEE!

Miriam Gould as herself


Cockpit Theatre Bookings

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