As a young person interested in theatre, I have seen, heard stories of, and been involved in more scratch nights and new writing pieces. I had not, however, come across one for opera, which is the void Second Movement’s Rough For Opera evenings seek to fill. The evenings consist of various new pieces and works in development, and there is a certain interactive element, with Q&A sessions after each performance, and audience discussion and feedback actively encouraged. In fact, it is worth going for this opportunity: opera is a medium that many people mistakenly feel alienated from, and the chance to lift the lid, as it were, on contemporary artists is an interesting one.
The first of the three pieces, He/Himselfie, a collaborative piece from Josh Spear and Richard Dodwell, examined the issues surrounding male body image through audio, movement and video. Perhaps the least obviously operatic of the three pieces, it often felt more like an art installation or physical theatre piece, as such a rich visual spectacle coming with the vocals. However, this is not to knock it, as it could achieve interesting things in either of those mediums – although the opening movement segment in a big, black bed sheet did go on somewhat, and some narration. It was a piece that certainly had some interesting promise, although seemed to be undecided as to what it was trying to be – what you would hope from a scratch night, in short.
The next piece went to the other end of the spectrum, both in musical style and theme. The Strange Last Voyage Of Donald Crowhurst – composed by Aaron Holloway-Nahum, with a libretto by Peter Jones – follows the story Donald Crowhurst who, in 1969, after starting to fail in a round-the-world sailing race, started to send telegrams faking his progress around the world. The orchestration reflected this story: at times, the use of accordion felt positively sea-shanty-esque. Vocally, this was interesting as well, as Donald’s character split over time between a baritone and tenor, creating some great musical conflict that I would be keen to see developed.
The evening was topped with Psychological Tales, a piece presented by The Hermes Experiment, that was a musical joy. Whilst narratively a bit murky – I believe it followed a young lady’s love life and following despair, which I only gathered from an opening speech saying as much – the piece fused various literary texts with stunning operatic arrangements. In particular, the reading of William Blake’s Sleep! Sleep! Beauty Bright accompanied by harp and double bass was both beautiful and appropriate. It was made all the more impressive by the fact that the musicians were improvising around graphic scores.
As with any scratch night, the evening was rough and ready, and a little hit and miss. However, it provides an interesting opportunity to find and enjoy new and slightly off-the-wall creative talents. Most importantly, it provides an evening to showcase new and emerging talent, and that in itself makes the evening worthwhile.
Rough For Opera played at the Cockpit Theatre. For more information, see the Cockpit Theatre website.