Cocteau Voices, Royal Opera House, London

No regrets as Walker scores with Cocteau
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The Independent Culture

This is a double bill of needy people, bad relationships and very French hotel bedrooms. Director Tom Cairns works with the rock musician and composer Scott Walker and choreographer Aletta Collins to stage and reinvent two short works by the French poet and film-maker Jean Cocteau, with insecurities playing out on polished parquet floors.

Duet for One Voice is a danced version of Le Bel Indifférent, a 1940 sketch created for the singer Edith Piaf. She played an older woman whose young lover ignored her. Walker and Aletta Collins switch the genders: a woman comes home and reads her newspaper, while her male lover flails for attention.

Walker's new score, the most effective element of Duet for One Voice, starts out sparse. Silence is broken up by a tinkle of percussion or a plume of brass, played in surround sound throughout the small auditorium. The volume builds to an industrial shriek, then stops again.

Collins choreographs the relationship with six dancers, three versions of each character. It's a device that Matthew Bourne used in Play without Words, where the doubles and triples suggested the different possibilities within each scene. Collins is less specific. The woman comes home alone; she and the man might be in overlapping sketches, which blurs the point of his clinginess.

The stage action is built into Walker's score. When the woman pours herself a glass of wine, we hear glugging on the soundtrack, looped and layered. The man ventures behind the newspaper, to be greeted by the score's animal growl. He retreats, but as the snarling continues, his hands twist into claws.

The work ends with a final twist of perspective. We suddenly see the scene from above, the woman lounging in an armchair fixed to the wall. The couple's body language, clinging and relaxed, is heightened by the skewed gravity.

In Cairns's staging of La Voix Humaine, Nuccia Focile sings the woman on the phone to the lover who is leaving her. She's ingratiating and demanding, nervously pulling at her petticoat as she tells lies or breaks into needy honesty.

Focile sings with pointed drama, soaring into lyricism then snapping down into her character's edgy insecurity. Conducted by Garry Walker, the young musicians of Southbank Sinfonia give a vivid account of Poulenc's score, with its shifting orchestral textures.

To 25 June (020 7304 4000)