WorkSHOPERA has a unique brand of theatre that has the potential to both deconstruct and revitalise the world of opera and theatre. However, despite the vibrancy of this new and exciting format, the actual content of Boys of Paradise makes it fall short of expectation.
Upon entering the performance space, instantly you are immersed into a clubbing atmosphere. This is offset by the venue; Egg nightclub, the famous London hotspot. The way in which they use the space is innovative, with the audience following them around as the action happens, members of the ensemble watching with us. This gives the piece a spirited energy; as an audience member you are constantly involved, as if clubbing with the characters as the action plays out. Unfortunately, this eagerness to recreate the club scene for the audience at times counteracts the performance itself – the first twenty minutes is just the cast dancing around in full clubbing mode, lights flashing music blaring, interacting with audience members, giving them ‘pills’ and encouraging them to dance. While this mode of audience interaction may seem inventive, it isn’t the first production to ever open like this. But it isn’t the lack of originality that’s the issue – this can often be an excellent way of throwing the audience in the ‘deep end’ per se. My qualm lies with the length of time with which this carries on – five minutes of this would be enough, and after twenty minutes I found myself bored, questioning whether this would be the whole performance and whether it was appropriate to leave.
Regardless of its shaky and overly long and drawn out beginning, when the dialogue and singing begins, they seized my attention right back. I was captivated. Beautiful costumes, and more importantly, beautiful singing fills the room as the story of Twink’s (Guy Elliott) first foray into the gay clubbing scene plays out before us. A brilliant concept, listening to lines such as “fuck off” and “would you like some cocaine” ringing out between the ranges of soprano and baritone is thrilling; WorkshOPERA really have something amazing right in the palm of their hands. Who knew an opera company could spin tradition on its head and portray a heavy night of modern day clubbing so aptly. Funny, accurate and at points, mesmerizing, I didn’t want to stop watching. A particular favourite moment is the soprano part of ‘Fag Hag’ (Emily Kyte), singing about the troubles faced by a straight women who hangs out exclusively with homosexual men. I didn’t want it to stop.
But the play does stop – and abruptly, in rather a cliché manner. While I appreciate the simplicity of the story line of a young homosexual’s first experiences of drugs, there is so much more that could be explored. I felt disappointed as the cast took their bows – here is so much talent, and so much promise – but with not enough content. They scratch the surface, when they could delve much deeper, and utilize their unique format to a much greater extent.
Overall, I left this show conflicted. It is definitely worth a watch, as the nature of the performance is like nothing seen before, accompanied by a high standard of talent. What is conflicting though, is the sudden and anti-climactic conclusion to the performance; there is so much to give, but it doesn’t allow its full potential.
Boys of Paradise is playing Egg London until 21 October. For more information and tickets, see Egg London’s website.
Photo: Claire Shovelton