Grimeborn, Arcola Theatre, London
Wednesday 26 August 2009
There are countless new opera and musical theatre initiatives, but few as intriguing as Grimeborn (dress down and dirty; no hampers or black tie needed), now in its third year, and curated by Alex Sutton.
You take pot luck in a ragbag festival containing new work by Jenifer Toksvig, Conor Mitchell and RSC composer Paul Englishby, as well as new looks at Handel, Britten and Copeland.
Opening night featured two bizarrely awful pieces about pre-Christian Sumerian gods and the tragic despair of a fan's obsession with Barrow Athletic Football Club. The first was a semi-staged hour-long version of Jenni Roditi's The Descent of Inanna; the second, Glen Boulter's An Unorthodox 1-2, created with the Aurelie Ensemble during a residency in Barrow "to investigate the aural environment of a football match."
Sounds of the terraces have twice been excitingly evoked by Andrew Lloyd Webber in Evita and The Beautiful Game, but Boulter and his gloomy half-hour serial score concentrates on the anomie of an abandoned pitch, wind rustling in the grass, a reiterated litany of unknown players, a solitary fan. We see all that on film while Damian Rose sits hunched over his paper in Barrow's blue-and-white strip and four musicians mix cello and percussion scratching with tedious taped fragments.
At least in the The Descent of Inanna there is palpable musicianship in the sustained ululations of the gods as Inanna (Sianed Jones), the Queen of Heaven and Earth, is sentenced to an away day in the Netherworld after planting the Huluppu Tree in the holy garden and marrying a shepherd.
Librettist Lyn Gambles doesn't clarify the connection between crime and punishment, but the composer herself fills in a few narrative gaps when not singing her head off alongside the Opera Factory soprano Marie Angel, jazz and folk specialist Vivien Ellis and the pleasingly expressive tenor Stephen Douse.
Roditi's score proceeds in choric slabs which rise up like huge waves and crash around our ears while the musicians follow meekly in their wake and a limber dancer, Clare West, decorates the stage with eloquently meaningless moves. West is also the director, so presumably she knows what she's doing even if poor old Inanna, like the rest of us, remains gloriously confused.
To 5 September (020-7503 1646; www.arcolatheatre.com )
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