In a one-off live performance, Tête à Tête Opera Festival presents what has intriguingly been titled The Trilobite, Or The Fall of Mr Williams – a thirty minute opera which takes place whilst the titular character falls slowly through the air to what is presumably a certain death. As he falls we see moments of his life, as he evaluates his decisions and the things that have happened to him.
The concept of watching a character’s life flash before their eyes is very interesting, as we see everything that led them to the present moment. We see this technique of storytelling used often in film and television, but it is seldom used in the theatre – let alone in the form of an opera. It is a challenge to achieve this kind of effect in the theatre due to the level of realisation involved to make the effect visually clear to an audience, but it’s something that I feel the creators of The Trilobite have brought together well.
Throughout the show a voice periodically counts down Williams’ descent in seconds. This helps us to visualise that whilst the fall is happening over half an hour for both the audience and for Mr Williams, it is, within the reality of the story, taking seconds. Whilst there is no set involved in this production, there is a clear focus on Mr Williams (played by Lars Fischer) as the sole occupant of the stage. All other characters are played by two performers through pre-recorded projection, giving a breadth of space on stage for our imagination to paint in the missing details. Fischer’s use of physicality to represent the fall, as well as other elements later in the show, is well formed and clearly defines the action, whilst the projection sets each element of the flashbacks from characters to scenery.
The show is introduced very much as a work in progress, something that has been changed drastically due to the COVID-19 situation, as well as, the Opera Festival itself being used as a testing ground for how to bring audiences back safely to the theatre, namely opera. I must admit that this comes across clearly in the overall delivery of the piece through several crucial elements. As I’ve mentioned, two performers, Anna Prowse and Peter Edge, deliver their roles through pre-recorded filming which makes heavy use of a green screen and video editing. Although this is a great technique, and easily allows for social distancing between the performers, it just isn’t executed very well. Firstly, the pre-recorded content has not been fully rehearsed by Prowse and Edge, and, as a result, you can see their eyes constantly looking off-camera, which is terribly distracting. Moreover, both performers were recorded separately, so their singing is often out of sync from one another. This causes a cacophony of vocal mixes which smothers the story and it’s all a little confusing, if I must say so myself.
The libretto, written by Elfyn Jones (along with the story), is very witty and well timed, but sadly quite one note in regard to vocal quality and pitch. Whilst this monotony plays well to Williams’ desperate plummet, it is a tad boring to listen to, with nothing gripping to drive us on from one flashback to the next – after all, opera is made to be listened to.
I appreciate where this show is trying to take us and I feel like I’m mostly there on the journey, the ideas and techniques that Jones is playing with are definitely worth the exploration, but unfortunately it seems unfinished and more of a workshop than a paid live performance – I would, however, be very interested to revisit this production further down its creative timeline.
The Trilobite, Or The Fall of Mr. Williams is available to watch as an interactive broadcast until 17 October. For more information and tickets, see The Cockpit website.