Latvia’s Justs decided to ditch his favourite brown leather jacket in favour of a black one for Stockholm. The staging for ‘Heartbeat’ is simple and effective. A grey stage with pulse effects that are busier during the quieter part of the song, turns to red at the second chorus. They were trying out different camera angles, though sticking with the most effective one, from the back during the bridge, which comes towards him then swirls. Justs’ tendency to oversing doesn’t feel like such an issue in the big arena.
I was less impressed by the Polish staging, which lacked a concept. Why not play with colour for ‘The Color of Your Life’? Instead, the stage is a generic dark blue with red and white spotlights. Three violinists, a cellist and pianist play behind Michal, who is in fine voice. He tried a silver jacket for the first run-through, then ditched it for the black vest underneath. Personally, I’d stick with the jacket.
Dearie me, Switzerland. There’s a hidden dry ice rucksack that makes Rykka smoke for the first 30 seconds, a waterfall backdrop, and that’s about it for the first two minutes. Barefoot, with unflattering blue perm, black vest top and pleated transparent long skirt, Rykka starts with a walk forward, but then remains rooted to the spot, bending her knees intermittently like she needs the toilet. We got a pyro curtain for the final run-through, as if any viewers will care by this point.
On the other hand, Israel offered a lesson in how to introduce a pyro curtain – by first building up an intimate emotional connection with their performer. This is X Factor winner’s staging: a dark blue, starry stage, backdrop and floor with a simple spotlight on Hovi in black. There are tasteful close-ups that fade in and out. Hovi’s joined by two unobtrusive acrobats in a spinning hula-hoop, which sets up a nice shot through the wheel from the back of the stage. The vocals were on point to round off an exemplary rehearsal. It was the finished product.
Keeping it simple worked for Israel; Belarus are rather less successful with the kitchen sink approach. There’s so much going on with the holograms that the singing becomes secondary – until you realise that Ivan isn’t hitting all the notes. We start with a video projection of a naked Ivan with a wolf, which dissipates as the real Ivan appears in pale linen suit and lined face. Only he disappears again whilst projections of him playing various instruments feature on the backdrop. There are more wolves on the backdrop, and the real Ivan moves around with a knowing smile on his face, still biffing occasional notes.
Serbia are telling the domestic violence story behind ‘Goodbye (Shelter)’. Sanja stands on a floor of grey swords with four women in white behind her. At the end of the first chorus a male contemporary dancer rushes the stage, and menaces Sanja, before doing the same to her backing singers. They join together to protect themselves, before joining Sanja for a Molitva-style finish. This is the solid package it’s always been.
By this point it felt like we were alternating good and bad rehearsals, as Ireland fell into the latter category. The stage goes from dark red to dark blue to dark red, which is bizarre for a song called ‘Sunlight’. Nicky, fronting his band in a suede and leather jacket, pulls the same wide-legged poses we’ve seen in Kiev and London. His vocal is exposed during the verses, before able support joins him for the chorus. He used the catwalk and satellite stage for the finale. This entry really needs to up its game in the remaining rehearsals.
FYROM have a blue stage, which turns to fiery, gold-framed backdrop during the chorus. There are four backing singers, a drummer, and Kaliopi centre stage, doing her usual thing, including the signature scream at the end. There’s a long, specific audience shot which may or may not be about the subject – the singer’s mother. This is getting the regional and diaspora points it was always going to receive, but probably not much more.
Lithuania’s Donny Montell is also doing his usual thing, strutting around alone on stage, with the occasional Michael Jackson-style sidestep. It’s yet another dark blue stage with a cosmic backdrop and floor, which explodes at appropriate moments. As in the national final, Donny has a trampoline for a somersault finale.
Like Russia, Australia are front-runners with a technological concept. During the second verse, Dami uses her hands to manipulate augmented reality (it looks like a computer screen) between her and us. She’s sitting atop a blue sparkly plinth in a big sequinned gown at this point, and is brought off it for the finale. She liberally freestyles away from the studio version of ‘Sound of Silence’, which isn’t a bad idea for a rather repetitive number. Sometimes it’s successful, though not all the notes were hit. On the plus side, this is staging with ambition – it’s like a Sia appearance on X Factor. But it needs more polish.
Do keep giving us your thoughts below.