Live Review: Laura Marling Secret Cinema @ Old Cardinal Pole Catholic School
Laura Marling is never one to shy away from an unusual gig setting. In 2011, she conducted an ‘experiment in awkwardness’, whereby people were brought into a caravan two-by-two at Camp Bestival for private performances, before leaving without a word. Tonight’s collaboration with Secret Cinema is an equally peculiar affair.
Billed as an ‘immersive live music experience’, the dress code is listed as vintage black tie, and guests are asked to bring a host of unusual gifts for Josephine Undine, the Lady of the Manor. The Manor in question being the Grand Eagle Hotel, which is actually an old converted schoolhouse, complete with chapel and dining hall. These aren’t unusual requests for Secret Cinema, a company known for its lavish performances. These are unusual requests, however, for the unsuspecting ticket holders who weren’t expecting much more than a set from Laura. As a result, the crowd on the first night is a mixed bag of those clad in floor-length gowns and tuxedos, and those wandering around perplexed in jeans and cardigans.
Each room of the hotel has been done up to resemble a dilapidated 1920s stately home, and actors dressed as servants and maids roam the halls with stories and secrets to tell. If you listen carefully and pay attention, each room boasts a subtle nod to Laura’s new album, ‘Once I Was An Eagle’. Her ghostly vocals are playing looped endlessly in the bedrooms, and typewriters loaded with lyrics are conspicuously placed in the writing room.
Halfway through the evening, Laura pops up on a balcony to play a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ with guitarist Eddie Berman, before disappearing behind a door. From this moment, things take a turn for the frantic. Is Laura going to play each song in a different place? Are there any clues to where they might be? Why is there an empty chapel if she’s going to pop up in corridors with no notice? The hotel storyline and theatrics become a subplot in the search for Laura.
The search lasts about 20 minutes, with guests dashing between rooms following stage whispers from staff members. At last a commotion forms in the main hall, as the crazy-looking barefoot girl that everybody had been nervously avoiding has a wordless, furious fight with her lover. A klaxon sounds, and the guests are told to make their way out of the hotel via the smoker’s area, where they’re shuffled to a school hall in which Laura’s band play an interlude on loop until the room fills.
After the theatrics of the hotel, the gig itself is surprisingly low-key. The band leaves the stage after a four-song opener from ‘Once I Was An Eagle’, and Laura finishes the set alone. Playing a further eight songs comprised almost entirely of new material, she seems relaxed and plays seamlessly. The new album plays more delicately live, and the lyrics get a proper airing without the aid of strings or percussion. With the exception of a fast-and-furious rendition of lead single ‘Master Hunter’, Laura plays through the album’s more sombre moments ‘Once’ and ‘Little Bird’ with sad gazes and whispered verses.
Laura manages to sneak in a token song from her second and third albums in the form of ‘What He Wrote’ and ‘Sophia’, before finishing with a forceful and fiery ‘Saved These Words’ and politely leaving the stage as the lights come on. She may have performed a beautifully sparse set, but tonight’s gig is brief and pales in comparison to the evening’s extravagance. Secret Cinema have pulled off a massively intricate show, but they forgot that ticket holders came to see Laura, and should have saved some more of the performance for her.