Review by Taylor Kendal
As a golden rule, history tends to make the best inspiration for storytelling in any artform. Sometimes liberties are made with the source material, and in other cases, the truth is more than enough to create the basis of an epic tale, particularly with those that hold an element of mystery about them.
The final resting place of Queen Nefertiti has long since been elusive to the world, with many in the profession deeming it lost or perhaps non-existent, lost to the ages. Being a history nerd myself, the invitation to observe a theatrical retelling of an expedition to find the lost tomb won me over instantly. Last Call for Nefertiti by English Cabaret promised ‘an intimate story of the search for the tomb of ancient Egypt’s most beautiful woman told through an inventive meld of history, performance and song’. This of course, earns intrigue of the audience, wondering how the tale will unfold with these varying elements.
Last Call for Nefertiti is a report in film of Dr. Nicholas Reeve’s expedition into the Valley of the Kings, a once thought to be worked out area of Egypt’s past, especially after the great discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. A film by Tom Blackmore, with recollections by Laurence Taylor and music by Sue Casson and The Brannick Academy interwoven with archival footage and informative narration.
I fear that much like the expedition to unearth Nefertiti’s tomb itself; this piece aims quite high with the expectations and doesn’t quite land where it desires to. Of course, these are purely my own reflections and thoughts, and others may have responded with it quite differently. The opening narration tells the audience that this is a story told through exposition and song. However, often, the two elements seem to clash with each other rather than form a cohesive narrative. Moreover, the piece never really makes it quite clear who is who, which can make it confusing when trying to understand what everyone’s involvement is.
Individually, the separate entities are wonderful. The recollections and the archival footage of the expedition is informative and engaging, particularly the video footage during the expedition, seeing it all firsthand as they searched for their goal. The music is witty, some written for the performance while other songs taken from history. However, put together it is a little jarring more often than not. The scenes of the subjects sitting silently while songs are being sung around them seems awkward, as though one was not sure what to do with themselves until it was their turn. On the other side, there were moments when I found myself keen on learning more about the expedition, only to have an overlay of music pull me out of the moment and make it rather difficult to hear and focus on what was being said. The intention was there, but unfortunately for me it simply didn’t mesh as hoped.
There were moments throughout that seemed a little out of place; the narration over footage of looking out over a bridge seemed jarring and a little lost with the relevance in a way. Other times scenes are broken up with discussions between the creators, but the dialogue is a little confusing; are they creating a show? Is it some meta form of documentary of how the creative process came about? I wished I could have kept up better because the subject matter really did capture my interest.
Overall, Last Call for Nefertiti seems a little lost in the way for me. Perhaps I was not the intended audience, and others may have received more from it than I did. I did, however, do some research after viewing about the expedition, so the informative side was there. As previously mentioned, the two elements of the report itself and the music as two entities were fabulous and should be commended. I simply wish they could have flowed a little better together as an overall piece.