What Happened to Agnes is an unfolding mystery from singer and storyteller, Nishla Smith, as she spins a tale told and retold, spanning three generations and two continents.
The show opens to haunting piano notes, spiralling into the atmosphere. Tom Morris’ score sets the scene with a full five or so minutes of piano instrumental, during which Nishla figuratively glides on to the stage. Words appear on a white backdrop accompanied by audio from Nisha’s grandmother. The words float up, from the ground to the sky, as we hear what we read. The playful, joyous and sometimes melancholic tones are there as cues, as Nisha recalls her childhood in Malaysia.
Born in the mid-1930s she recalls a time with brothers and sisters (Hugh, Gerard and Agnes); a time of playful innocence and what one can only imagine was beset with long hot summer days and military conflict. Both brothers suffer during this period as we discover through the descriptive narrative used to describe the family’s journey to the hospital of 100 steps.
Nishla’s vocal repertoire is both original and remarkable. This jazz influenced sound, delicately delivered an added vibrance to the tale being told. Not being familiar with the songs performed I noted the lyrics of ones that particularly stood out – look out for them if you’re lucky enough to see the show; these included ‘Come to me Agnes’ and ‘Listen to the Trees’ both are jaw-droppingly evocative.
Linking the vocal prowess of Nishla and the musical mastery of Tom is Luca Shaw’s hand painted projected art. The first, orange and white in colour, flowing and swirling with a delicate intensity. Each song ushers a change in design, which like impressionist art captures the tone of a particular point in time.
By the end of this jazz infused cabaret-styled performance we find out What happened to Agnes? But the answer may not be the one you thought it would. Nevertheless, the pathos, humour and warmth of this piece strongly marks its journey as one worth investing in.★ ★ ★ ★