Tag Archives: Claire Shovelton

The Trilobite

The Trilobite

★★★★

Online

The Trilobite

The Trilobite

The Cockpit Theatre

Reviewed – 23 September 2020

★★★★

 

“a fascinating experiment in the creation of new operas”

 

The Trilobite is part of a socially distanced live performance series at the Cockpit Theatre brought together by the Tête á Tête Opera Festival. But if you missed the September 17th performance in house, or the September 19th interactive broadcast online, don’t worry. A recording of the interactive broadcast is available, also online, for 28 days.

The Trilobite, or The Fall of Mr. Williams, is the creation of opera maker Elfyn Jones. It is the final piece in a triptych (as Jones likes to refer to his trilogy) of operas that are linked not so much by theme, as by modes of production. While working on his PhD thesis at Goldsmiths College, Jones began experimenting with various ways of integrating sound into opera. The Trilobite has a number of innovative examples of his experiments in sound design. These, married to a complex and interesting plot, and coupled to some richly ironic singing, make for a compelling experience.

So what do ambitious geography teachers, trilobites, a love triangle, angels, and a fall from England’s highest cliff all have to do with each other? It is remarkable how Elfyn Jones manages to bring together these disparate elements in only thirty minutes of performance time. A passion for trilobites, together with ambitions of giving a lecture at a prestigious Geography Institute, lead Mr. Williams up the slippery slope of the Great Hangman cliff on Exmoor. There, attempting to protect his students from falling, he himself topples over the edge. As he falls, we find out that he has lost the love of his life to the gym teacher. More importantly, perhaps, we learn that the discovery of a new type of trilobite was made, not by him, but by a sixth form student of his. In the last ten seconds of the hapless Mr. Williams’ life, a couple of judgmental angels comment ironically on these events.

It’s a pretty extraordinary idea to use the last ten seconds of a man’s life as the basis for a plot. But what makes this piece equally arresting, are the sounds, in all their manifestations. Not just the singing, which are skillful performances by baritone Peter Edge, tenor Lars Fischer (Mr. Williams), and mezzo-soprano Anna Prowse. It’s also the way in which Jones puts all these elements together. For the performance at the Cockpit Theatre during the 2020 pandemic, Fischer was, in fact, the only performer who appeared on stage. Edge and Prowse had to perform in more challenging circumstances, as their parts (and they each played several) were recorded separately during lockdown, with only a green screen for company. Not that Fischer’s performing platform was easy, by any means. It must be quite a feat to sing while imagining yourself falling through space.

The magic in The Trilobite emerges in the mixing of the musicians, the singers and the sound effects. Using sound processing software for this opera, Jones creates, for example, the rush of air as Mr. Williams falls through space; water running through sand; a journey in a car through the pouring rain, and voices of complaining sixth formers. This is music of a different kind —a rich subtext to the dramatic events taking place. And through the wizardry of more processing software, Jones was able to combine all the elements—sound effects and music—to create this piece. It’s an intriguing execution of an exciting concept. If there is one criticism to be made, it is that sometimes there is so much going on in Jones’ opera, that it’s hard to take it all in. But as the composer suggests in the discussion that follows the performance online, live performances on stage by both singers and musicians in future post-pandemic productions, should be easier on everyone.

So catch The Trilobite, or The Fall of Mr. Williams, in its current manifestation, while you can. It’s a fascinating experiment in the creation of new operas. And the subject matter notwithstanding, it’s also a lot of fun.

 

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Claire Shovelton

 

Tete a Tete


The Trilobite

The Cockpit Theatre as part of Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2020 also available online

Previously reviewed by Dominica:
Jason Kravits – Off The Top | ★★★★★ | Live At Zédel | January 2020
Us Two | ★★★ | The Space | January 2020
Crybabies: Danger Brigade | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Fireworks | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Luna | ★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Our Man In Havana | ★★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Revisor | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | March 2020
Sky In The Pie | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
The Revenger’s Tragedy (La Tragedia Del Vendicatore) | ★★★★★ | Barbican | March 2020
The Tempest | ★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | March 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Persephone's Dream

Persephone’s Dream

★★★

Online

Persephone's Dream

Persephone’s Dream

The Cockpit Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd September 2020

★★★

 

“thirty minutes of appreciation of all the odd, disjunctive tricks that dreams, good and bad, can play on us”

 

Persephone’s Dream, put together from a concept and libretto by Tania Holland Williams, has been created by a company that only began working together, and then remotely, after the beginning of the pandemic. Billed as a “digital/live hybrid opera”, this piece is part of a socially distanced live performance series at the Cockpit Theatre brought together by the Tête á Tête Opera Festival. But if you missed the September 18th performance in house, or the September 22nd interactive broadcast online, don’t worry. A recording of the interactive broadcast will be available, also online, for 28 days.

Persephone’s Dream is an intriguing work, with some inspired touches. Some touches are well realized—some don’t go far enough. Given the difficult circumstances of any act of artistic creation at the moment, this is not surprising. And thirty minutes is a sensible performance time if you are performing indoors during a pandemic. But it is also a challenge if you are tackling profound subjects (including that of the pandemic itself) that need time, space (and decent lighting) to develop into something of special significance.

Persephone’s story is well known. Holland Williams takes the Greek myth as her starting point, but instead of focusing on Persephone above ground in her Spring and Summer guise, she
introduces us to Winter Persephone. This is the Persephone who spends her time in Hades, dreaming of her return to her mother, Demeter’s, world. From the confines of the underworld, Holland Williams’ libretto encourages us to make the connection with the confines of the pandemic. Persephone spends considerable time singing of pursuits like gardening and dog walking—subjects that take on a heightened significance when you are enduring winter—or lockdown. In Persephone’s Dream, we are all encouraged to dream of the things we can’t do until the end of the pandemic. It’s a bold, and engaging, concept.

Inspired touches in Persephone’s Dream include two female performers onstage, accompanied by a “Chorus of Curious Eyes”. Anna Brathwaite sings us into an appropriate dream state as Persephone, while Clare O’Connell accompanies Brathwaite with both cello and voice. In addition to singing, Brathwaite’s Persephone spends most of her time winding and unwinding herself in her remarkable costume, which includes a chess set attached to the front of it. In fact, it’s not so much a costume as a set design. (Kudos to Sarah Jane Booth, in charge of both costume, stage and digital design.) Another inspired touch is the “Chorus of Curious Eyes” which is the digital component of this opera. The Chorus is composed a mosaic of faces, projected onto a large screen. Each face, broadcast live, accompanies the action on stage in different ways. Intriguing as this is, however, much more could have been made of the Chorus. Viewers of the broadcast version online will also feel a certain frustration at being unable to see much of the detail on this screen, since the camera doing the recording is so far away.

But Persephone’s Dream is intriguing enough to be worth a visit, even viewed online. It’s thirty minutes of appreciation of all the odd, disjunctive tricks that dreams, good and bad, can play on us. A timely reminder, when we look back on these extraordinary times, at how we might remember the dreams we had while trapped in hell.

 

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Claire Shovelton

 

Tete a Tete


Persephone’s Dream

The Cockpit Theatre as part of Tête à Tête Opera Festival 2020 also available online

Previously reviewed by Dominica:
Jason Kravits – Off The Top | ★★★★★ | Live At Zédel | January 2020
Us Two | ★★★ | The Space | January 2020
Crybabies: Danger Brigade | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Fireworks | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Luna | ★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Our Man In Havana | ★★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Revisor | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | March 2020
Sky In The Pie | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
The Revenger’s Tragedy (La Tragedia Del Vendicatore) | ★★★★★ | Barbican | March 2020
The Tempest | ★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | March 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews