Reviews

Here’s a collection of reviews of Spacedog shows – most recent ones first. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to come along, view the show and give us an honest appraisal. I hope you don’t mind us cutting and pasting from your websites so we can round them up on one page.

 We’ve published every review we can find so you can see shows have developed over time.

Televisor (Spacedog with guest spot from Professor Elemental)

The Brunswick, Hove 9 and 16 May 2011, with reprise of Spacedog’s Televisor set at Bom-Banes, George Street, Brighton Tuesday 24 May 2011

Review from Tiramisu, Fringe Review, May 2011

Spacedog presented a unique musical and visual experience featuring a plethora of unusual instruments and robots. Fittingly, the sound of Kraftwerk filled the air as we awaited the show. The stage was set with a ventriloquists’ dummy’s head, a robot crow (Edgar Allan), various percussion instruments including a waterphone and a carillion (made from automated chiming bells), a musical saw and a theremin, as well as a couple of laptops and a guitar.

The performers arrived on stage looking weird, but strangely elegant, and began by playng something reminiscent of a surrealist film soundtrack, with haunting vibes from Stephen Hiscock, Sarah Angliss playing the Moog theremin with her trademark fixed stare, and Colin Uttley sporting Adams family style make up. Samples of old televison programmes wafted over the soundscape as a homemade ‘Televisor’—as invented by John Logie Baird —whirled into action. Spacedog educate as they perform.

The next number introduced Jenny Angliss on vocals. She sang a beautifully bleak, and very moving, song —medieval and folky—which was accompanied by Sarah on the recorder. The mood was lifted by Edgar Allen Crow performing a duet with Sarah using samples from a Fifties recording on ‘How to teach your parakeet to talk.’ As the robot moved his head and sang, the whole song bizarrely came across as quite philosophical. This was followed by an old, short film of a woman undergoing hypnosis, with Spacedog providing ethereal sound effects on bowed Waterphone, Glockenspiel and Melodica through an echo effect.

Following some fascinating facts regarding BBC announcers in the 1930s’, Uttley then introduced their guest for the evening – Professor Elemental, who sported a pith helmet and clay pipe, and proceeded to entertain with his ‘chap hop’ raps. It’s a bit like an update on 1950’s beat poetry such as ‘Word Jazz’ and was highly entertaining. He interacted with the audience and referred to the evening as ‘like being at a strange aunt’s house – weird, but at the same time exciting.’

Spacedog then performed a song about 3 ‘myths’—the Lankin, the Revenants ( the dead who arrive in our homes on the eve of Martinmas), and the true tale of the woman who passed an electrical current through her baby as a lullaby. All beautifully illustrated by Jenny’s haunting singing voice, Theremin midi’d up to laptop and the Carillion. It felt like an audio version of The Shining, played on instruments thrown together in sheds somewhere near Bletchley Park. This was followed by a song in a style reminiscent of the band Einstürzende Neubauten about the Soviet Ecranopan – a giant Hydrofoil – then the very sad tale of Laika, the dog sent into space in a Sputnik rocket, and some film of a 1970’s scientific experiment involving men climbing in and out of tunnels to great comedic effect, which was enhanced by Hiscock’s balloon manipulations.

All in all this was one of the most unusual evenings of the Fringe. The experience was of very high quality both visually, musically and, most of all, conceptually. Like mediaeval electronica meets Trip Hop meets Tomorrow’s World. Superb.

Rating: * * * *

Review from Stuart Huggett, Latest 7 Magazine

Spacedog is one of the few bands to give equal billing to both humans and automata, and tonight its Televisor show drew from a third pool of members – the spirits of the dead and undead. Sarah Angliss and her companions used voice, vibraphone, theremin, piano and more to connect the dots between such cultural phantoms as the original space dog Laika, MR James, ‘Stooky Bill’ and Jacques Brel. Pith helmeted rapper Professor Elemental introduced some segments of comparatively light relief, that nonetheless carried their own sinister undertow. Spacedog deserves wider recognition for this constantly surprising, inventive and moving show.

Rating: * * * * *

Review by Richard Stamp, aka FringeGuru

I’ve seen many acts in my travels on the Fringe, but I’ve never seen anyone quite like Spacedog. Scientists, engineers but above all musicians, their genius lies in their magpie collections of intellectual exotica – picked up seemingly at random, but linked by a shining theme. Joined this year by steampunk favourite Professor Elemental, they fill the Brunswick with their artefacts and contraptions – and fill our minds with spooky, haunting song.

The tenor’s set by a mournful opening number, with a sense of an old folk song re-imagined for the modern age. And that blend of old and new proves a recurring theme: Spacedog apply the white heat of now-dated technology to our ageless hopes and fears, invoking an ancient bogeyman as readily as they do the Sputnik.

Jenny Angliss has a strong, pure and sometimes-chilling voice, while sister Sarah strikes a suitably other-worldly pose playing the theremin. The theremin itself is fascinating to watch: with its instantly-recognisable, nerve-jangling electric tone, it’s played without physical contact by skilled movement through an electric field. Percussionist Stephen Hiscock also has some unusual tricks up his sleeve (it’s the first time I’ve seen a cymbal played like a violin), and then there are the robots – a singing raven, a possessed ventriloquist’s doll, an extraordinary computerised bell-tower.

It could all have been a space-dog’s breakfast, but compere Colin Uttley does a good job of holding it all together, aided by the over-arching “Televisor” theme. In the early days of TV, he explained, would-be “Telegazers” would build their own machines – just like the one he’ll unveil now on stage. As in all the best episodes of Tomorrow’s World, the equipment didn’t quite perform, but the ready supply of early-TV trivia still did its job – invoking the excitements and the unknown terrors of a dawning age.

Professor Elemental’s guest slot fits nicely into the pattern too; I was sorry not to hear his ever-popular posh rap Cup Of Brown Joy, but I have to admit his quietly horrid number about a haunted toy-box was a much better match for the overall tone. At times, in fact, it all got too dark, and a couple of Spacedog’s pieces cross the line from sinister into out-and-out disturbing. But don’t be put off: there’s plenty to enjoy, on this weird and jagged border-line between art and science.

Rating: * * * *

Uncanny Valley (Spacedog and Professor Elemental)

Review from Franco Milazzo, The Londonist

August 2010 at the Hen & Chickens Theatre, London

If you’re looking to see something decidedly different over the Bank Holiday Weekend, Uncanny Valley at the Hen and Chickens Theatre is definitely worth a look-in. This show, a hit on the Brighton Fringe, is a collaboration between storytelling musicians Spacedog and Victorian wordsmith Professor Elemental.

This is not your ordinary common-or-garden pub theatre. Spacedog (Sarah and Jenny Angliss) start off by describing an abandoned toy rabbit that they rescued (an issue Londonist is well aware of) before delving into the titular scientific theory of empathy and asking: what happens when things appear too human? And it is there that their tale really begins… Freakshow photos, torchsongs, a disembodied head and a theremin are used to stunning effect as they ratchet up the tension. Spacedog are far scarier than the much-hyped Ghost Stories and generate the kind of gore-free spinechilling terror that mainstream cinema seems to have forgotten.

Professor Elemental, a steampunk rapper who would not have been out of place at this year’s Chap Olympiad, comes on like Mike Skinner possessed by Lewis Carroll. He spews poetry and rhymes fast and fluid with stories of child kidnap and animal hybrids alongside paeans to tea and just how splendid everything is. He’s loveably bonkers and makes a good contrast to Spacedog’s more mordant fare.

Both parts of this show are excellent in their own way. We can see this being a word-of-mouth wonder that will hopefully come back sooner rather than later. If there are awards for bravery in the field of theatre, this show deserves a Victoria Cross and a pat on the back. Unfortunately, we are only able to hand out this message from the front row: see it if you can before it disappears back down the A23.

Review from Richard Stamp, FringeGuru

May 2010 at the Marlborough Theatre, Brighton – for the Brighton Festival Fringe 2010

An electronic bell-tower, a theremin-playing robot and a possessed ventriloquist’s doll. It can mean only one thing: Jenny and Sarah Angliss, the gadget-mad musical sisters otherwise known as Spacedog, have taken over the stage.

Spacedog’s nerve-jangling music isn’t to everyone’s taste – the man sitting next to me left at half-time – but if you resonate at their frequency, they put on a deliciously spine-shaking show. They have a talent for building a song around an image or a phrase which, though completely normal, they somehow make creepy and bizarre. The lankin, a child-stealing golem of folklore, also featured this year; it’s just a legend, I kept telling myself, but the sound of a baby’s cry replicated on the theremin will still stay with me for days to come.

Partnering the Angliss sisters for this show, another local act – Professor Elemental – was more up-tempo, but still offered some darkly surreal tunes. It took me a while to warm to his gentleman-rapper persona but I soon found myself joining the rest of the audience, shouting back the lyrics to his YouTube sensation Cup Of Brown Joy. The professor’s own twisted tales included a quietly horrific tale about a child’s toybox turning on its owner – and a slideshow of his taxidermy “experiments”, a kind of foretelling of generic engineering gone mad.

In contrast to 2009’s straightforward set, this year’s show was woven around a theme: the uncanny valley, a theoretical chasm in everyone’s brain where the cutely humanoid becomes just too real. Spacedog had brought along a collection of children’s toys to illustrate the point (and a PowerPoint presentation too), and the professor, it turned out, had an unhealthy relationship with his ventriloquist’s doll – part Dead of Night, part Dorian Gray.

It’s great to see them experiment with a proper storyline; but like all mad-scientist endeavours, it hasn’t quite worked first time. Having whiled away a pleasant hour in a coffee shop with half of Spacedog, I knew enough of the back-story complete the jigsaw. But to the uninitiated, I think, it must have felt as crazily stitched-together as the animals in the professor’s stuffed menagerie.

To develop further, what this show needs is the input of a good director – to point out that the dummy’s head was often in the way, or that Jenny Angliss’s subtly freaky outfit will be wasted if she skulks at the back of the stage. Still, a geekily ramshackle ambiance is a mark of a true enthusiast, and it all contributed to this show’s twisted and subtle charm. The Angliss sisters are appearing again, sans professor, at Bom-Bane’s on Thursday; if a spot of spine-tingling is your kind of thing, do your best to call along.

Electroplasm (seance, theremin, death ballads)

Spacedog (music) and Richard Wiseman (seance) at the Marlborough Theatre, Brighton Festival Fringe, May 2009. Shortlisted ‘Best Music Event’ of Brighton Festival and Fringe, in the 2009 Latest 7 Awards.

Review from Richard Stamp aka FringeGuru

No matter how many shows I see, or how weary of it all I grow, there’s always something at the Fringe I’ve never done before. The oddball, fascinating Electroplasm packs two such experiences into one hour-long event – combining spookily other-worldly music with a chance to relive our ancestors’ attempts to contact the “other side”. These two halves are, to be honest, only tenuously linked; but each alone is interesting enough that I’ll forgive the bolted-together feel of the resulting show.

First up came local musician duo Spacedog, performing (and I quote their website) ”electronic interpretations of tales of necromancers”. I’d been almost as sceptical about this proposition as I am about the afterlife, but from the very start of the haunting opening number I found myself drawn into Spacedog’s surreally spooky world. Heavy on samples and clashing tones, the programme had a dark and morbid edge – combining, for example, a harmless nursery rhyme with that most-feared bogeyman of my own childhood, the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water. Some of it, I suspect, was tongue-in-cheek, but other parts were truly moving.

To complement Jenny Angliss’ impressive vocals, she and sister Sarah had brought along a stageful of bizarre music-making apparatus – including their own electronic bell-tower, which you have to see to understand, and a thrillingly sinister animated doll. Star of the show, though, was the theremin. Better known as “the thing that makes the funny noise in Good Vibrations“, the theremin’s an instrument played without physical contact, by skilled movement of the hands through an electrical field. It was fascinating to watch, and the nerve-jangling electronic sound was a perfect match for the evening’s tone.

The second part of the event was even more off-the-wall. In a short reconstruction of a Victorian seance, led by paranormal expert Dr Richard Wiseman, the whole audience linked hands around a table before a blowing out a solitary candle. In complete darkness, we concentrated together on the objects on the table, calling on the spirit of a long-dead actress to enter the theatre again. It was, I’ll admit, a little bit scary, but Dr Wiseman’s jovial patter was reassuring and the experience was both interesting and fun.

So did the spirits visit us? The believers in the room certainly thought they had; the non-believers left, I think, both entertained and intrigued. For my part, I’ll say that something happened – something very odd – and that since I had Dr Wiseman physically in my grasp, I don’t see how he can have caused it. I don’t believe in spirits, and I’m pretty sure it was a trick. But I still felt a presence; I sensed something passing over me, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that another soul had joined us in the room.

Review from Munki About Town (aka Melita Dennett, BBC South)

Where else would you find a Victorian seance, ghostly theremin and mournful songs of death and decay but in the company of Spacedog?

Coming on like a bunch of science teachers putting on an end of term show, Spacedog charm, beguile and surprise with their collection of home-made electronic instruments, including a rack of small bells programmed to work automatically, and an odd construction of steel tubes stroked with a bow to produce eerie other-worldly tones. And of course there’s a musical saw in there too.

Taking in songs by Brel and Weill as well as originals including a tribute to the original spacedog, the hapless Laika, Jenny Angliss’s soaring vocals augmented by her sister Sarah’s electronics, Spacedog’s Marlborough show provided a magical escape to other worlds.

The second part of the show was a re-creation of a Victorian seance, conducted by Professor Wiseman. We sat in the darkened room, having contemplated a number of objects which would invoke the spirit of a long-dead music hall star. Holding hands in a circle, the collection of objects before us identifiable only by luminous strips to make them visible in the dark, there were gasps and screams as the wicker ball flew into the air, and the tambourine clattered on the table, sending the candlestick flying. All Victorian parlour tricks of course, but you could see how a gullible audience of a previous era could willingly believe the spirits truly were amongst us.

Review from Michael Hootman, GScene

This is fringe weirdness at its most bizarre and eccentric: a young woman dressed as a ’20s film star singing cabaret songs at the darker end of the spectrum accompanied by another woman playing saw, theremin and electronic-bell-ringing machine.

At first I thought this might be some comedy act, but almost immediately the beauty of the woman’s voice and the intent behind it banished such fears.

The evening kicks off with a powerful version of Jacques Brel’s My Death and continues with a 12th-century song about child death and then later a version of that song from the Wicker Man in which Britt Eckland does her nudie slapping-the-walls dance.

For me the highlight was a self-composed song about Laika, the dog the soviets sent up into orbit in the 50s and who subsequently died alone in the depths of space. Ethereally sung, haunting and quite incredibly sad it resulted in one of those strange moments when it suddenly hits you that unless you exercise complete self-control you’re going to be in floods of tears.

The second half of the evening was not so successful. It was a recreation of a Victorian seance where the lights were turned out and various object hurled themselves around the room. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be comic or perhaps was meant to convince the audience we’d stepped over to the spirit realm, but the result certainly wasn’t thrilling or funny enough. Also, I’m not sure why a perfectly lovely evening of songs had to have a seance stuck on the end of it.

More than just a novelty act, the Electroplasm songstresses will, I hope, find the cult stardom they deserve.

Review from Nione Meakin (The Argus)

The Marlborough pub and its accompanying upstairs theatre, are steeped in more than two centuries of history, making it an ideal setting for this esoteric night of “theremin, automata, death ballads and seance”.

Against a half-lit backdrop of faded velvet grandeur, Sarah Angliss, of music/art collective Spacedog and vocalist Jenny Angliss came together to perform a collection of eerie English folk songs, Kurt Weill and original work.

Dressed in turn-of-the-century attire and watched over by two jerky, robotic vintage dolls, they made a spooky sight. As Sarah coaxed an otherworldly wail from theremins and musical saws, Jenny’s fragile, haunting vocals whispered tales of a mother inviting her three dead children to eat with her at Martinmass – an ode to Laika, the dog who died in space on board the Sputnik 2 and a wry tribute to terrifying public information films – “I am the spirit of dark and lonely water, ready to trap the unwary, the show-off, the fool.”

A recreation of a Victorian seance followed, in which the audience, led by Quirkology author Richard Wiseman, joined hands and in pitch darkness managed to make a wicker ball, highlighted by glow-in-the-dark strips, levitate up towards the ceiling. Judging by the drunken guffawing and good-natured fooling, no one was entirely convinced this was the work of a spirit, but it was an atmospheric, interactive novelty nevertheless.

The show was a little ramshackle in execution, but in its imagination, enthusiasm and sheer “where-else-but-a-Fringe?” weirdness, a commendable Gothic delight.

The Sputnik II Memorial Session

Sanctuary Cellar, Brighton, May 2008

Three Weeks review

Rich in significance, weirdly other worldly, and inspired by UFOs and space odysseys, Sarah Ingliss [sic], the thereminist (I’ll come back to that), performed barefoot, which I’m beginning to think is a signifier for musical brilliance. The band played a mixture of well known songs, like John Barry’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, and their own compositions to a backdrop of repetitive visual images projected on to a wall. Jenny Ingliss sang to the accompaniment of guitar by Ben Kypreos and Mike Blow and the eerie sounds produced by the aformentioned theremin, which is played without being touched. Two antennas protrude from it controlling pitch and volume, requiring precision and perfect pitch. After the interlude a wired up plastic baby (Clara) on a stand with a wire taped to its arm mechanically played the theremin while Sarah rang hand bells with a guest performer. Sarah is a technical magician and I get the impression the more you dig music the more you’ll dig this collective.
tw rating 4/5 [sla]

Senster – A Cabaret of Acoustic Curiosities

Friends Meeting House, Brighton, May 2006

Three Weeks review

Brace yourself for the death noise – also featuring a theremin, musical saw and talking seal – this show packs a sonic punch. Described as a ‘cabaret of acoustic curiosities’, Senster is part lecture, part concert and part performance art, drawing the audience into surreal other worlds of sound. Did you know, for example, that fish are irresistibly drawn to the sound of Barry White’s voice, or that low bass infra frequencies are often detected at the site of hauntings? The evening climaxes with the administration of this infamous frequency or death noise through a giant tube that spans the room. Witness it if you dare. Spine-tingling fun is guaranteed.
tw rating: 5/5 [FH]

The Haunt, Brighton Festival Fringe

Around Brighton, May 2006

Three Weeks review

Reader, I’m spooked! Really, as I write this my hand is visibly shaking as I reach out for my skinny latte. About an hour ago, I embarked on Spacedog’s ghostly audio tour, which is conducted by a dead Victorian woman, who guided me through alleys tucked away in the North Laines. The eerie tinkling music did an impressive job of making me feel strangely alone in a bustling Saturday crowd. It all culminated with lonely me in a pitch-black basement; uncommunicative strangers taking my hand, my reflection slowly morphing into that of the dead woman’s, and flashes of red curtains, a distant noise, irrational thoughts of ghouls, maybe a slight panic – and suddenly, a tiny voice right in my ear – ‘it’s over now…’ Aargh!

tw rating: 4/5
Shortisted for best show of the Brighton Festival, 2006

Top: Excerpt of photo by Gaynor Perry