Opera Reviews
23 July 2018
Untitled Document

A murderously good evening

by Colin Anderson
Copeland: A Tell-Tale Heart
Dudley: The Doctor's Tale
Linbury Studio
The Royal Opera
8 April 2011

Madness and things surreal - perfect ingredients for opera, and here making for a contrasting and successful double-bill as part of The Royal Opera's latest OperaShots venture, playing for a week at its home, the workshop-like, underground Linbury Studio Theatre, the composers this time being Stewart Copeland, who is his own librettist (with help from Edgar Allan Poe), and Anne Dudley, collaborating with wordsmith Terry Jones, indelibly part of the Monty Python crew and here coming up with an idea and script in that vein.

Both of these stage-works come off well. The half-hour Copeland is based on Poe's short story about a man who murders an older man whom he rather likes, save that he has an evil eye that drives him berserk; and then, haunted by his dark deed, reveals all to a couple of not-very-bright policemen who have all the pantomime stances.

Directed by Jonathan Moore, the Victorian melodrama treatment given to this simple yet effective story becomes ever-more intense, and reaches breaking point: you can't be passive as a member of the audience.

Richard Suart plays a blinder as Edgar (as here named, Poe's character is anonymous) going to and then over the edge. Adding to the dark mix are Edgar's Shadow (his conscience?), those old-fashioned London Bobbies (the comedy element, 'evening all') and two female, rather ghostly neighbours. The scene is a drab room, a bed and a couple of chairs the only props. The lonely Alan (Philip Sheffield), the bedsit's occupier, and soon to meet his maker in bloody terms (the murder weapon being his own money box) probably welcomes Edgar's company but is also wary of him.

Copeland, founder and ex-drummer of The Police, provides a score true to himself, jazzy, swingy, with maybe a nod to Stravinsky at times, and with some distinctive writing for percussion. Otherwise the instruments are strings and piano, finely played by members of CHROMA conducted by Robert Ziegler. It's good!

Anne Dudley and Terry Jones's story is about a dog, Scout, who is a doctor loved by all his patients. And very engaging it is, too, enlivened by Dudley's fast-paced, lyrical, cartoon-like and (no surprise) filmic score, brilliantly laid out for winds, strings, harp and percussion, deftly played by CHROMA, now conducted by Tim Murray. Very tasty! And a word for trumpeter Heidi Bennett, whose first-night playing was flawless and charismatic. We should not forget those that beaver away in the pit while singers and designers hold the stage.

This medical-doggie story (could such a thing ever happen?) holds the attention in a very likeable, dynamic and concise way: the hour flies by, and the production is full of fun. Just occasionally the music recalls (entirely coincidentally, no doubt) Malcolm Williamson's score for his opera version of Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana (from which the orchestral suite is an absolute joy).

No warning was given (as far as I saw) for strobe-lighting or gunshots (I jumped come the latter!), but that's neither here nor there, for Darren Abrahams is a super Scout, with doggie ears and tail, human and canine in meaningful symbiosis (man's best friend, after all) and the rest of the energetic eight-strong cast does well as angels, blinkered executives, vets, and sundry other characters.

Jones himself directs with panache; and sets, lighting and videos all come together in what seems a positive team-effort of creativity. This production could win-a-lot.

And no expletives needed in either piece (so refreshing after a certain tawdry libretto for the bigger house!), although the lack of surtitles in the Linbury can be a problem, particularly in the Copeland, when Edgar's words are doubled by his Shadow. Nevertheless, both of these stories tell themselves very effectively, with music and staging individual yet coming together interactively. For a murderously good and aah-factor evening, go see!

Text © Colin Anderson
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