by Polly Hope
The English National Opera at the Young Vic
It is called opera, it is produced by English National opera and there is singing and an orchestra of Purcell's period. But goodness if this is opera you could have fooled me.
Katie Mitchell, a woman whose theatre work I have consistently admired, her productions of classical Greek tragedies at the National Theatre were jaw droppingly wonderful, so off I go excitedly expecting another marvel. Oh dear, Katie has been consumed by technology and literally drowns herself in it. She appears to want to make a television production, new every performance, rather than open up a new view on this delightful masterpiece.
The stage is filled with video cameras on bulky tripods, lots of mikes and miles and miles of cabling. A long table running across the front of the stage holds myriad props, changes of T-shirts, bottles of booze, food etc, The actors are behind all this at the back of the stage hanging out in some sort of shabby tenement building, all very P.C and nasty, a kitchen and a bedroom and a lobby. Not that you can see much owing to all the above-mentioned installation. High up over this shambles is a big screen on which the action is projected as it happens.
Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of the singers, but mostly the audience has to rely on the projections which are mostly close ups of hands and bottles and rather nasty looking food on plates. You haven't a clue what you are supposed to be looking and there is no projected text so if you don't know your classical Greek goodness knows how you find out what is going one. So we watch the very nimble chorus lugging the video equipment about the stage to film bits of the action. They sing as they film and we are amazed at how silent they are and neither trip up or make cat's cradles of all that wiring. It is of course almost dark.
Oh yes, if, and it is a big if, you know the story it is buried somewhere in the action at the back of the stage. Three sad people, Dido, Aeneas, [who quits for Rome with a small back-pack over his shoulder,] and the Sorceress. The last is the one making the food in the scruffy kitchen.
Somewhere inside this tangle the music occasionally gets out, but somehow trying to sort out the visuals make it almost impossible to hear the music. Multi tasking for the audience it sure is.
Perhaps this is an exciting venture. Perhaps Katie is telling us this is the way opera should be produced these days. I have always felt that television needs opera and in a new way. This perhaps is a beginning but this production left me bored silly. I kept looking at my watch and only another five minutes had passed; yet the whole caboodle is only ninety minutes long. Don't think the audience had such a good time either as the applause was polite but very minimal.
Hats off to everyone for trying, but this one should have stayed as a workshop event rather than fleecing us public for expensive seats believing we were paying for real opera.
I am sure Katie Mitchell will work out a way to handle all this technology eventually, I have great faith in her but such self-indulgence in a freezing cold theatre did not make for a fun evening.
Polly Hope. London