Self-described as a “provocation about our planet and how we look after it,” Filament Theatre Group bring Earth Makes No Sound to this year’s Tête à Tête Opera Festival. Tête à Tête seeks to revolutionise opera, and its annual festival invites provocative performances, with the odd discussion or forum, that celebrate and transform the future of opera. If you’re like me, and know very little about opera, then you needn’t worry. The modern take that draws on classic techniques is easily enjoyable by all. Earth Makes No Sound, directed by Sabrina Netherclif, is a stirring piece centred on our planet, and the way in which we treat it.
For a while, I’ve been considering how to describe Earth Makes No Sound, what exactly is it? The word ‘opera’ conjures up women in corsets and beautiful dresses, singing arias and crying about a long-lost love. Not a whiff of that here. Performed by the Filament Theatre Chorus and Roundhouse Choir, 30 – 40 people dressed in flowing garments of earthy blues, greens and nudes, move, sing and make sounds for just under an hour. Wording it this way, of course, doesn’t make it sound very exciting, but it is stirring and bizarre in equal measure.
The piece begins, and the performers descend the aisles either side of the stalls, humming and swaying. We quickly realise through what I can only describe as interpretive dance, that they are the earth. Some pulse and sway and hum, others throw themselves back and forth, crashing and hissing. It is at times powerful, and others absurd and almost amusing. There is complete silence when a Sainsbury’s bag full of single-use plastic, is dumped into the ‘ocean,’ and the performers representing the sea just stare at it. They then perform a terrifying song about how said plastic never ever goes away – once it is there, it’s there forever, stewing in me a deep regret for buying a bottle of Volvic an hour prior. The image of the plastic items floating on a sea of hands, and the sound of it brushing past itself, is haunting. Somewhere in the world, is an ocean that looks and sounds like that.
If Earth Makes No Sound seeks to get people thinking and talking about our impact on the environment, then it achieves that goal. I left increasingly concerned for the troposphere, the ocean, and about deforestation (even though that wasn’t even covered). There are some extraordinarily jarring parts that seem nonsensical and look and sound, to my untrained eye, silly. The overall message though, is one of hope, and that we can live in our home in harmony, and with respect for it. With lulling music and words written by Osnat Schmool, Earth Makes No Sound is avant-garde opera with a warning.
Earth Makes No Sound played at the The Place as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival, which ran until 18 August. For further information, click here.
Photo: Claire Shovelton