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and the Crowd (wept), Riverside Studios

Afsaneh Grey
Music by Erick Flores
Directed by Pia Furtado

Pros: Engaging, hilarious and tragic at the same time with enormous skills on stage. It definitely will get you thinking about society and morals.

Cons: Direction is a bit confusing at times and the aptly orchestrated noise on stage could get on your nerves after a while.

Our Verdict: A play with great potential that is more about society’s obsession with celebrities than an obsessive celebration of Jade Goody. 

Courtesy of Paper Tiger

To write an opera on or about Jade Goody must classify among the top ten most masochistic ideas a playwright can ever have in their entire career, as the girl from Bermondsey attracted scores of fans and legions of haters. Whether you loved or loathed the world’s most (in)famous reality TV character, however, you are in for a treat at the Riverside Studios. But read on for a warning or two…

Part of the ever-expanding, yearly Tête à Tête Opera Festival Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, and the Crowd (wept) is not actually about Jade Goody or her life, nor is it about Big Brother as such. As it turns out, Afsaneh Grey’s courageous effort is a masterful mockery of our contemporary society, of our morbid desire to televise everything, splashing it all across the headlines and being reckless as to who gets crushed along the way.

The setting is well laid out in the small space available. A nine piece orchestra, complete with winds, arches, timpani and the likes is on the floor whilst all the theatrical action plays above on three magazine-and-paper-cuttings-flanked office desks. Three female sopranos aptly called One, Two and Three (Sarah Minns, Norah King and Cathy Bell) interchange their role as tabloid typewriters, audience and Jade Goody herself. Without ever naming her, they take turns in telling us the story of Jade’s life, and surprise us with a cockney-infused interpretation of her most masterful soundbites, such as ‘I called her poppadum’, or ‘I thought Cambridge was in London, not abroad in East Angular’. I especially loved the Big Brotheresque eviction speeches where Jade’s vagrant soul simply came back to life in all her grotesquely tragical simplicity. The male singer, tenor David Hansford, amusingly swaps between being an old French woman, the tabloid director, Big Brother’s master and the hateful hammer attacker of Jade’s last few days.

This is an opera after all, and it does come with music. Or at least it comes with the most beautifully directed cacophonous noise I’ve ever heard in my life. BBC3 Live Music Editor Adam Gatehouse’s experienced direction of an exceptionally skilled set of musicians managed to produce all sorts of noise. From birds flapping to door banging and camera flashes, it was all beautifully timed, wonderfully delivered and relentlessly unnerving, although eventually a little exhausting to listen to. Thankfully, the singing was nothing short of superb. All sopranos managed what must have been a tremendously difficult sequences of high tones and provided a much needed harmonic backbone to the orchestra. David Hansford’s performance also helped in keeping balance on a stage that could have easily proved too packed on this relatively small space.

Just like the character which inspired it, and the Crowd (wept) is bound to split its audience. As a script, it’s funny, even hilarious at times, thought-provoking and intelligent. By using the singers intermittently to represent a faceless, cruel audience, it depicts modern society’s lust for blood and morbid attraction to the improvised star’s flaky emotions, exposing Jade Goody as the victim that she actually was. The direction by Pia Furtado is inventive and pushes the boundaries of modern Fringe, although some may not like the sometimes confusing role changes and noise on stage.

As an opera, and the Crowd (wept) enjoys quality singing and skilful instrumental execution and direction. However, it is a continuum of noise that may have you wanting to leave halfway through. It would be a shame if you did though, as this play has all the ingredients to become a glossy success story, if it is given just a few tweaks (perhaps some more melodic moments, for instance, to give the ears a rest).

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

And the Crowd (wept) was part of Tête à Tête Opera Festival at Riverside Studios. Last performance already played, but the festival will run until Sunday 18th August 2013.
Box Office: 020 8237 1111 or book online at www.tete-a-tete.org.uk

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