Blue Electric is the tale of a rebellious daughter’s fight for acceptance from her father, broken by his experience as a Holocaust survivor. The work is gorgeous, but Orpha Phelan’s vision lacks coherence. Eloise Philpot’s design is filled with stunning visuals. Nude translucent drapes cascade from the ceiling as an ensemble of cloaked figures lurk in the shadows. It’s something ever so creepy — ever so stylish. A shadow of a child wanders with snowy shoulders as a white storm pours from the ceiling, eerily wandering towards Nazi persecution. But these instances are undermined with issues of basic clarity.
The characters are supposedly in Paris yet there’s nothing French about it. An indistinct timeframe implodes the action. There are fishnets and a half-hearted backcomb — a weak nod to the eighties. I know that with more attention to detail and a tightening of specifics, this could be an incredibly tight-knit production. It’s a show which reads strongly in terms of Operatic Structure. You’ll spill into a haze of vocals. Unfortunately, there’s a reason Opera is not performed in English. The language is unembellished and drags itself. I thirst for poetry in the imagery yet it never surfaces. Samuel Beckett vanishes almost as quickly as he is referenced.
The show swarms, unravelling from a state of stillness to the very brink of chaos. It’s on a knife edge and I long for that slice. It never seems to reach a state of absolute, unhinged senselessness when it could do so in a most delicious manner. Silicone fish heads bob behind screens as a painted Lady in her long gloves and finery strips down to a yellow bikini. The actors kneel in white chalk dust clouds as they scratch into the floor with the desperation of their thoughts. Their drawings coat the stage. Mimi Doulton tears off her jeans, unwraps a canvas and wears her father’s painting straight off the easel. I applaud these moments of disintegration but I’m starved for more!
If you have ever longed to see a trio of young women singing about, ‘Scoliosis’ then this is a treat. But the abstraction is not solid enough to create an effective sense of alienation. It takes itself too seriously. All of these blips of fabulous humour are lost. The audience seems scared to laugh at the nonsense presented to them which is so upsetting when such joy is melded before their very eyes. I urge for more confidence from the performers as Phelan’s artistic cries are bold and enticing.
It is indeed daring to examine antisemetic atrocities through opera, but the exploration of this violence falls short. I want to nosedive as a spectator and feel this intensity through my bones. Holocaust reflections are essential to processing the entire history of sociology and it is essential to work thoroughly to encapsulate one’s ideas fully. I am convinced this would flourish with a stronger lens as the shortcomings by no means a product of carelessness, but of practical constraint.
Something I have nothing but admiration for is the manner in which the performance entirely adheres to social distancing. The actors never touch yet seem totally involved. I only wish the narrative of domestic violence were to have more focus. Three women howling, ‘Stop.’ ‘Please Don’t Scream,’ magnifies the tension of this vividly topical issue in a society fresh from Lockdown. We are at a turning point in the representation of abuse narratives and I long for closer attention.
I leave this performance in a state of inspiration. The potential of this piece is boundless and I am nothing but invested in its growth.
Blue Electric is playing at The Playground Theatre until the 31 October. For more information and tickets, see The Playground Theatre online.