Opera can be a difficult affair to open your heart and mind to, however there are numerous organisations and companies which are bridging the gaps between conventional opera and wary new opera fans. Only last week, A Younger Theatre took a group of young theatregoers to their first opera, and whilst the opera might have been a disheartening portrayal of the concentration camp Auschwitz, the chance to see opera as being more than just arias with large women belting out a never-ending note was encouraging. Opera can, and often is, pushing beyond conventional themes. With the work of LIVEARTSHOW, its dance-opera piece Manga Sister looks to blow any pompous notions about opera completely out of the water, for this performance has to be one of the most unconventional and imaginative operas I have ever experienced.

An elderly man appears to be abused by his care home staff, whilst his wife (or relative of some sort) plots to have him murdered by a slow intake of alcohol. The man, trapped in his useless body, stares endlessly into a television screen that plays a Japanese show called Manga Sister, where two characters ceaselessly attack each other. As the elderly man nears his death, he is somehow magically saved by the manga character morphing from the television into real life, and killing those that harm him. It is perhaps unconventional, full of surprises, and mixes a combination of opera, dance, projection and narrative. Whilst imaginative, it is for the best part a disengaging and confusing experience for its audience at the Yard Theatre.

The problem with Manga Sister is whilst the various elements that make up this production are conceived well, they could quite happy work independently but when they are brought together they don’t connect well. The production feels episodic. At times humourous, for the most part Manga Sister leaves us befuddled by this attempt at merging several very opposing styles. It is quite disheartening, because within some of the outlandish ideas are some good sparks of life, that if given more focus could work into a really wonderful piece.

It’s not that I don’t look on Manga Sister with an artistic eye, but it is hard to look into the artistic merit when the various elements don’t join to form a connected piece. There is a ‘narrator’ who sits in the audience reading a Manga book, but the convention isn’t well placed, and she does not seem to be anywhere near the story. There is, however, a touch of tenderness and conviction in Deryck Hamon’s portrayal of the elderly Gerald. His distorted sounds of confusion and discomfort are at times difficult to watch, but Hamon hits the mark. As for the rest of the cast, they give sound performances, but it is hard to judge when you can’t quite get over the odd mixing of elemental styles presented in Manga Sister.

As a whole Manga Sister shows that opera can be inventive and unconventional, but sadly on this occasion it only served to alienate its audience. Thankfully the evening is not completely lost as Manga Sister plays in the Yard Theatre, a new temporary ‘pop-up’ style theatre in Hackney Wick. The theatre, along with its staff and ethos, is phenominal, and I urge anyone with a curiousity for an adventure to make the trek to the Yard to see and experience the work they are doing. Oh, and the food is amazing.

You can find out more about The Yard Theatre on itsĀ website here.