When most of us hear the asinine ravings of toddlers, we feel many things: irritation, affection possibly, and nostalgia for that simpler period of our lives. Few of us, however, have thought to recognise the staples of any toddler’s life navigation kit such as tantrums for what they truly are: moments of high drama ripe for transposition into opera. Tête à Tête’s Opera festival is ahead of the curve, offering two verbatim opera pieces, I’m Not A Bit Like A Clown and I Do Need Me, that are based on the real-life musings of two children.
Both pieces are able to evoke the toddlers’ intrigue with the world and their eagerness to discover every aspect of it, whilst reminding the audience of the loneliness a toddler must feel, living in a world where everyone seems to know the rules except them. The pieces’ ability to flit between the children’s pseudo-philosophical thoughts about their own existence and place, and their more immediate concerns such as orange juice that’s so cold it hurts, keeps the piece light and spritely.
I Do Need Me is the lighter of the two pieces and is essentially the stream of consciousness of a young boy called Noah. Tenor Will Morgan and percussionist Nathan Gregory, stride onto the stage with sombre faces in dark suits, only for Morgan to take off his shoes, unbutton his shirt and sit slouching in his chair like a fed up child. Morgan’s voice caresses the lyrics delivering them with stoic severity, leading to many laugh out loud moments, and some melancholic ones such as the refrain where the child wishes he was a star. Oliver Brignall’s chaotic score evokes the shrill immediacy of the child’s thoughts and requests, occasional pinching audience members with irritation. An aimless but pleasurable stroll through the thoughts of a child, the lack of destination of I Do Need Me makes the piece feel a tad long.
I’m Not A Bit Like A Clown is the stronger of the two pieces, detailing a day in the life of an energetic little boy. The percussionist is slightly repurposed as the child’s reluctant father and mannequin for him to practice make-up on. The stage is transformed into a play area, adorned with various toys that cleverly double up as percussion instruments and non-binary soprano Alexandra Bork makes full use of the space. I’m Not A Bit Like A Clown grapples with the boy’s exploration of gender stereotypes, and his attempts to go against them. “I’m beautiful,” Bork sings confidently, only to later recount with sadness a time where the boy wore a tutu and was met with scorn from his classmates, “The girls didn’t like it. They thought it looked funny. Tutus are for boys!” Director Poppy Burton-Morgan’s decision to include interactions between the child and his percussionist father, also add sentimentality to the piece.
I’m Not A Bit Like A Clown and I Do Need Me are beautiful windows into the secret lives of toddlers, giving new meaning to their ravings. It’s possible that the next time audience members hear a toddler throwing a tantrum in Tesco, they will a feel a pang of sentimentality or inspiration rather than irritation.
I’m Not A Bit Like A Clown and I Do Need Me played at The Place as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival. For more information, please click here.
Photo: Scene from I Do Need Me, Claire Shovelton