Reviews Opera Published 13 June 2014

Clive & Other Stories

Peckham Asylum ⋄ 8th-9th June 2014

Experimental opera in Peckham.

Rebecca Morris

Clive & Other Stories is a triptych of contemporary opera produced by Gestalt at Peckham Asylum. Intriguing name, bold ideas, exciting venue. Gestalt is an emerging opera collective; a multi-disciplinarian and visionary tour de force headed by Ruth Mariner and Toby Young. This festival was a collaboration between writers, composers, visual and digital artists, directed by rising new talent Ruth Mariner and the music composed by William Cole. The orchestra was an assemblage of gifted musicians ranging from wind instrumentalists and sound engineers to an accordionist.

I confess that I am an opera neophyte, but any preconceptions of it as a rigid and grandiose form were challenged as I watched the performances unfold amidst the ornate, crumbling brickwork of Peckham asylum’s desanctified chapel. Moreover, contrary to the astronomical sum often associated with opera, tickets were a very reasonable £10. Each opera took place in different areas of the chapel, adding a charmingly shambolic air to the evening.

The first performance of the night was A Sign in Space written by Arthur Sawbridge and composed by Nick Morrish Rarity. This piece was largely performed by an offbeat operatic duo, Q and K, played by Benjamin Williamson and Dan D’Souza. As digital projections drifted across the stone ruins, D’Souza’s baritone added a bold tonal layer to Williamson’s countertenor. Meanwhile, the otherworldly narrator, Felicity Turner electrified the hall with her opulent mezzo-soprano. This was a brave new world of dissonant music, a visual and audio mash-up of neoclassicism with a new-wave feel.

Clive, written by Matthew Lee Knowles and music by Ben Ashby, most definitely subverted any other preconceived notions of opera I might have had. Visually hyperbolic with a cartoonish aesthetic, it began with an in-patient encased by what looked like a bloody crown of thorns. It is a bombastic piece about madness and murder with lots of gloriously crude language. When Clive’s demonic sister appears, words are occasionally and unexpectedly shouted rather than sung and the audience is startled to laughter by lines such as: ‘I’ll shit on your hands and on your face… then stab you in your arse’. The sinister nurse played by Camilla Ball is a combination of Hattie Jacques’ Carry On persona and Nurse Ratched. Appearing briefly is Oliver Brignall, a stunningly rich tenor with a magnetic stage presence. Disappointed that he only had a cameo role, I was gratified to see him as a protagonist in the final piece.

This was Adrift, written by Shaun Gardiner and composed by Ed Scolding. The music up until this point had been intriguingly discordant and sparse, but in this final one a pleasing harmonious score, occasionally undercut with sinister minimalism. Protagonists Maud Miller and Oliver Brignall expressively convey the sad verbatim tale of migrants in 2011 who perished whilst traversing the sea. While the piece had some visually eclectic detail, it was this duo with whom I was fixated,as their powerful voices collided, filling the chapel with a thrilling finale.

The whole experience was a visual treat, and I felt engaged by the intimate and informal nature of the event. Gestalt are one of the pioneers in a small movement creating multiform, experimental opera; I look forward to seeing their future collaborations and the potential for further syntheses with aurally minded visual artists.


Clive & Other Stories Show Info

Produced by Gestalt Arts




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