The Foley Explosion is a hard show to classify. One-part theatrical production and one-part experimental concert, with just a hint of a new media art exhibit thrown in for good measure. It starts with an intriguing enough premise; a Russian based spy thriller based around deception, fake news and featuring cameos from prominent members of the intelligence community such as Edward Snowden and Alexander Litvinenko. What makes The Foley Explosion so unique can be found in its name, Foley. Julie Rose Bower, as the solo performer, tells the story entirely via sound, creating a varied and constantly evolving soundscape, letting the viewer visualise the entire narrative in their mind. It is a brilliant idea, and Bower is mostly successful in its execution, but she seems more interested in experimenting with her sound-based gimmick than telling a story.
The thing is, while the story may be lacking, I still found The Foley Explosion an enjoyable experience, almost entirely because of Bower’s creative use of Foley. Curiously, all the equipment she uses is in full view from the outset, as though inviting the viewer to predict how the various props and devices will be utilised. The seemingly random collection of household objects are repurposed while Bower narrates a personal account of her year in Russia: the propellers of a toy helicopter become a ticking clock, a fan replicates the cold wind of Saint Petersburg, the heels of a shoe simulate the sound of a Geiger counter. It makes for not only a fascinating twist on a traditional structure but also ties into the themes of disinformation perfectly. We know all the sounds are fake because we can see Bower creating them, but we’re asked to believe them regardless. We move from the real world to a fictional one, but Bower’s story is so grounded in real-world politics we never doubt her for a second.
The sounds are recorded and looped, with Bower slowing adding and subtracting layers of Foley to create new images in the viewer’s mind constantly. Bower performs all the sounds live, and while it is impressive to watch her work, it does lead to extended sections of downtime as she sets up the next scene, hurting the show’s pacing.
I found myself so enthralled by the show’s experimental structure that I forgot there was supposed to be a Cold War-esc thriller at the heart of everything. Bower seems more concerned spending minutes building up the sounds of the Winter Palace than advancing the story, so when the extended monologues concerning Edward Snowden and the 2018 Salisbury poisonings happen during the finale, they don’t feel like they’ve had the build-up required to be effective. A notable exception to this is Bower’s recount of the 2002 hostage crisis in the Dubrovka theatre in Moscow, a suitably tense and emotional scene, helped by the looping sound of Bower’s heartbeat in the background.
The occasional use of photographs, such as of Sergei Skripal following the attempt on his life, also clashes heavily with the supposed audio-only experience the show strives for.
The Foley Explosion feels like a first draft, one big experiment into what this style of production can achieve. Assuming Bower can iron out the creases, she could create something truly excellent in the future. As it stands, despite its faults, The Foley Explosion is certainly one of the most unique theatrical productions I’ve seen in a long time and is worth watching for Bower’s masterful control of sound.