The Reincarnation of Trim Tab Jim – Rock Opera

I have had the good fortune this evening of attending the opening night of this rock-opera by composer/singer James Mannion. As a live musician myself, and audio engineer I tend to be a bit critical, but I will say straight away that this was a simply stunning performance from all angles but especially the quality of all the performers and the originality and impact of the composition.

The performance consisted of a complex arrangement of dramatic acting (spoken), rock music, video backdrop and a female choral group, called the Women of Note. The action takes place in Death’s Waiting Room, and focuses on the thrust and parry between a recently dead victim of a mugging, the main part Trim Tab Jim played by James Mannion, and the Angel of Death played by Penny Scott-Andrews. Trim Tab Jim propounds three Causes which essentially form a justification as to whether he should actually be dead or not – the outcome of which I will not spoil for you as two further performances at the Brighton Fringe are upcoming, on May 15th and 17th. Indeed given the sheer quality of the production directed by Amy Onyett, I feel sure opportunities will occur in the future to catch this show.

The seven members of the female singing group, aided by a capable pianist performed a number of songs as the audience gathered, with accuracy of intonation and harmony that was a delight. Their further singing from the back of the auditorium at times during the performance added an ethereal and delightful dimension to the music. The band was a 4-piece consisting of guitars, bass, keys drums and backing vocals, who remained tight and accurate throughout (despite some rather mind-boggling instrument swaps, rather unnecessary I always think) and I didn’t hear a single note wrong which is quite a feat, especially as the stage was often very dimly lit! The quality of the playing was substantial, very musical with a good dynamic range and expression – obvious signs of serious rehearsal by serious musicians. At times the drama of the music reached peaks of excitement that both surprised and enthralled.

Special mention must be made of the lead, James Mannion whose singing was full of expression, and so delightfully always in tune, such a relief when the singer is accomplished enough to sing accurately! His voice showed a range of style and emotion, excellent dynamic range, supplemented by speaking parts, and again not a single detected mistake. James really threw in a tour-de-force of a performance, fabulous stuff indeed.

it would be easy to underestimate aspects of this production, but the detailed work involved must have been immense. The projected video that synchronised with the performance impressed greatly, as did the speed with which the engineer put right a video software crash at one point, rapidly regaining the correct point in the video stream thus saving the day.

In the context of such satisfaction its possibly churlish to mention any niggles. On an audio mix note, at one point the applied lead-vocal reverberation intrusively emphasised high frequencies but this minor niggle was brief and possibly a temporary radio-mic malfunction. From the start the musical mix was bass-light, and remained so throughout from my position in the audience near one of the main PA speakers. I wonder if this was because the audio engineer was at the back in the corner of the auditorium where bass will sound enhanced – a tricky place for a front of house engineer to mix from. The keyboard used for rock organ was nearly inaudible in the mix but only for the first 15 minutes, after which it was perfect. The thrust and parry of Trim Tab Jim and the Angel of Death Was a very uneven contest! Jim had the intellectual upper hand throughout, with the Angel defending her corner with one hand tied behind her back, or maybe one wing!

In summary James Mannion deserves huge credit for his highly original creation, that combined so many artistic and intellectual elements. He has assembled a thoroughly talented team who exerted a grip from start to finish of this memorable performance. It deserves to go far.

Review by Barnaby Thwaites (

Brighton Fringe 7th May 2015 at The Old Courtroom.

Image by © Alan Bromley

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