Review: '8' A Steampunk Opera, The Other Palace

‘8’ A Steampunk Opera, is a dark new musical with gloriously powerful voices, slow sliding melodies and an obscure plot line. This show blurs the line between musical theatre and opera to create a piece artistically similar to Miss Saigon and Sweeney Todd. ‘8’ A Steampunk Opera is playing as part of Tête à Tête, a two-week opera festival playing across London. It shines a light onto new opera works and allows groundbreaking, experimental shows to be thrust into the limelight. ‘8’ A Steampunk Opera is a perfect example of this, and Charli Eglinton has created an astounding show. She’s crafted everything from the concept, music, book and lyrics, to even creating the orchestration and artwork. It is beautifully composed with a strong cast, but the sci-fi like plot is bizarre and occasionally hard to follow.

Originally intended to be a full length ballet/opera, the show is shortened to fit in the small studio space of The Other Palace. This change is made by cutting songs, watching animated videos and reading dialogue to cover the skipped scenes. However even with these effective changes, the story feels gloomy and overly elaborate. It follows the life of Ed (Mikey Wooster), who has been branded with an 8 on his cheek by his mafia-boss father (Ralph Bogard). Ed tries to escape the evil, but inevitably finds it within himself and his past soon catches up with him. A dramatic fight scene is omitted entirely, and the abrupt ending appears way too quickly, so I yearn to see this show in its entirety. 

Despite the fast pace, the story is still explained brilliantly and sets free a wild imagination. It’s a fantasy land plot that embraces all the typical human tragedies, from love triangles to complex father-son relationships. What makes this musical individual is the anime-like style that incorporates automatons and a futuristic feeling. Eglinton has truly let her ideas fly to create this coherent narrative. 

The music (also by Eglinton) is delightfully refreshing, as it’s not following the expected pop trend that musical theatre is heading towards. Instead we are treated to beautiful lilting melodies that slide dramatically through semitones. This style is very similar to Les Misérables and an argument between two brothers is bizarrely comparable to Jean Valjean and Javert’s battle. These moments of familiarity crop up throughout the show and while the music is exquisitely harmonious, it doesn’t feel 100% original.

Nonetheless, Eglinton marries the music to the narrative extraordinarily well and reflects the emotion of each scene precisely with her underlying orchestration. Performing this heightened music is the star cast, who have rich operatic voices and refined tonal qualities. Their commitment is admirable and the fact they only learn the show in nine days is highly impressive. The combination of the intriguing score and pleasant voices is outstanding.

This brand new work is compelling and deeply imaginative throughout every aspect of the performance. It is extremely well developed and is already a complete show. All it needs now is a bigger space to present the full work, and I look forward to seeing it when it does. 

‘8’ A Steampunk Opera is playing at The Other Palace until 1 August. For more information and tickets, visit The Other Palace website.