Greek, Arcola, 4****: William Russell



Music by Mark-Anthony Turnage

Libretto by Stephen Berkoff from his play of the same title.

Adapted by Mark-Anthony Turnage & Jonathan Moore.

4**** In the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, London E8 5DL to 20 August 2018. At 7.30pm – check performance dates with theatre.

Runs 1hr 50 mins. No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7503 1646

Review: William Russell 11 August.

A boy’s best friend

Based on Oedipus Rex Berkoff’s 1980 play reset the events in East London – eight year’s later Turnage used it as the basis for his opera with dazzling results. Like the it is a harsh, dramatic affair with it’s tongue firmly in it’s cheek even if it is about how Oedipus slept unwittingly with his mother. It is not an easy piece. Do not expect to leave the theatre humming melodies easy on the ear. Expect to be deafened, disturbed and at times aghast at the sheer outrageousness of it both musically and verbally.

The score is not to my taste, but it works and that is all that matters. Edmund Danon as Eddy makes a splendid East End wide boy first met when the audience assembled he bursts into the auditorium much as if he were one of the pizza delivery bikers in the street outside who had wondered what was going on. He gazes at the middle class opera lovers in their glory assembled and says – “What the f*** is going on?” before being ejected. For a second it seems real, but when he returns the illusion is shattered and the story begins.

Eddie, whose voluptuous wife is older than he, is told by his parents that he is adopted and the story accompanied by music inspired by jazz, street chants and lot of staccato bursts of sound begins. The performances are very good indeed, with Philippa Boyle and Richard Morrison making a fine Mum and Dad and Laura Woods playing Sis and Eddy’s wife as gloriously voluptuous of figure as of voice.

Director Jonathan Moore keeps it all flying along, there is a terrific set by Baska Wesolowska and the Kantanti Ensemble under Tim Anderson do full justice to the score. The opera has been staged in all sorts of ways over the years, but this version is possibly as good as it gets, and the result is an impressive contribution to the Grimeborn programme. Is it unmissable? Well that depends on whether the music is your sort of music. Berkoff’s play is something not to miss, but this is an opera. However going only to what one knows one likes is not to be recommended and this is a chance worth taking. Berkoff’s final glorious joke comes across as a killer blow, which is what it is meant to be. It should not be told. However, as Tom Lehrer said –

“One thing you can depend on is

He sure knew who a boy’s best friend is.”

Mum: Philippa Boyle.

Eddy: Edmund Danon.

Dad: Richard Morrison.

Sis/Wife: Laura Woods.

Director: Jonathan Moore.

Conductor: Tim Anderson.

Designer: Baska Wesolowska.

Lighting Designer: Matt Leventhall.

Repetiteur: David Todd.


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