Pros: An exciting and varied night of new performance making.
Cons: Not for those who are more traditional at heart.
Rough for Opera is a scratch night, dedicated to showcasing developing works in the operatic field. It should be noted that the definition of ‘Opera’ is broad here: this is a place to test out ideas, and test out the very boundaries of what opera can be. This was certainly exemplified through this evening’s performances.
First up, was Manspangled by Edward Henderson (music) and Lavinia Murray (libretto), directed by Barbara Wojitczak, and presented by Bastard Assignments. The work began with a small ensemble seated in the middle of the space (I should explain that The Cockpit is a studio theatre which enables audience members to sit on three sides of the square space that forms the stage). They clicked hair combs together to make miniature sounds which engaged the audience: through both straining to hear and frank curiosity. A cello joined in, also making microscopic sounds, slowly sliding down in pitch, disrupted by the saxophone blowing coarsely over the delicate set of noises, in sharp, violent movements. This simple yet effective ensemble formed most of the material which was used throughout the piece. The inspiration for this, as I found out in the Q&A section after the performance (chaired by Royal Central School of Speech and Drama Professor Paul Barker) was the concept of an ‘insect orchestra’, an interaction of minute sounds, later created by performers popping bubble wrap, and blowing bubbles out of little pots. The action started in the audience, as a man (or goblin, as he described himself) embarked on a twenty minute stream of consciousness, consisting of his own mental breakdown, and using some wonderfully poetic imagery.
The second piece operated on a radically different plane. This was Strange Exiles, a piece perhaps best described (if we have to pigeon-hole) as musical theatre with strong contemporary classical and jazz influences. The ‘strange exiles’ of the title, referred to one of the little-known consequences of Cold War paranoia in the states: the persecution of queer citizens. This was told though unnamed men and women (exciting and fresh performances from Jen Hazel, Catlin McMillan, Blake Askew and James Irving) narrating their experiences of the period, accompanied by projections from the time: inflammatory newspaper articles, protest images and government-issued handbooks on the legalities of homosexual activity. The piece was colourful and bold, had flair and originality, especially in the instrumental music which was extremely nuanced in parts with some delicate gestures.
The third and final piece in the showcase was Hunger, an extremely intense movement piece by director Rebecca Hanbury, movement director Amy Insole, and composer Alex Groves. The piece sought to challenge the very way in which opera is constructed, by not affording music a primary role, and working instead through devising processes borrowed from theatre (where works are constructed through collaborative improvisation and exploration within the rehearsal room, rather than scored on paper and then performed). In this production, the music was actually written last (Groves composed a bank of material which could be drawn from, rearranged and recomposed within these rehearsals). Centred around the Women’s Liberation Movement and the plight of the suffragettes, the piece was extremely engaging with a really strong movement component – some context based, some more abstract. This gave the piece an extremely exciting, visceral edge, which highlighted just exactly how static and staid some operatic productions are – I wish some of this intense physicality was something we could see more often within the Opera Houses!
All in all, Rough for Opera presented some new and vibrant ideas in a free and encouraging setting. It was a wonderful experience.
Directors: Barbara Wojtczak, Rebecca Hanbury.
Composers: Edward Henderson, Alex Groves, David Merriman
Lyricist: Lavinia Murray
Movement Director: Amy Insole
Booking Until: One night only
More Information: http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/rough_for_opera