Art Review: Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound

Dir. Paul Brotherston, Tron Theatre, 9th – 13th May


Paul Brotherston’s play Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound is a small-scale, intimate representation of a great real-life woman. Why don’t we know about her?

The name Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound suggests that the play would deal with Daphne’s musical legacy. For the many of you who probably are not aware of it, Daphne Oram was a pioneer in electronic music and the co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic workshop, working for the BBC in the 1940s-1950s. However, the play itself focuses more on Daphne’s philosophy that innovation has neither beginning nor end. Various features – the photo of Francis Bacon, the play’s sound artist Anneke Kampman being fully visible on stage, and the unfinished sentence with which the play ends – all succeed in showing how we draw from one another and build upon the foundation left by those before us. Most of today’s popular music would not exist without Daphne, although her music might not find many fans within today’s young generation.

Still, the representation on Daphne’s music in the play does not hold up to high expectations based on the play’s promotion. The music is rarely the main focus, only taking the foreground in moments between scenes when artists move in slow motion. It is mostly overshadowed by Daphne’s life-story filled with the multiple rejections she faced, and portrays the poor funding she received once the BBC decided to take on her project. Her ideas have been classified as obsessions of a silly girl, rather than those of an intelligent, creative woman. For me, this is a story of feminism framed in that of a musician. 

Whether this play is something which Miss Oram would have wanted is difficult to judge. Rather than focusing on her personal life, her character states several times that she is a musician and desires to be seen as such.  Yet at the same time, this accessible story is likely to motivate people to research her work, possibly more so than a performance that is heavily reliant on music would. So, perhaps the goal of the play is indirectly achieved.  

[Zad P. Novak]

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