The first musical adaptation of Sarah Kane’s iconic final play (2000), Philip Venables’ opera won multiple awards following its premiere at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2016. Returning to the Lyric for its first revival, six women, a small CHROMA ensemble, and brutal sound designs (Sound Intermedia) bring new life and meaning to this terrifying ode to mental illness and the misery of suicide.
The most thrilling moments come when the music fights against the text. In the distorted dialogues between patient and doctor, there is complete silence and inaction on stage, while a taiko drum and clinking pipe beat out the syllables of the script, projected beat by beat onto the wall. Perfectly rhythmic and choreographed, the beats work against the natural patterns of speech, creating a disconcerting, musical effect, saying much more than just the words on the page.
Weaker moments come when the music slavishly follows the text. Spooky cinema organ clusters may be an attempt at pastiche, but this doesn’t appear to match with the deadly serious ensemble movement on stage. As the ensemble encircle central figure Gweneth-Ann Rand, screaming a dissonant, operatic soprano chorus, “Shame, shame, shame, drown in your fucking shame,” Kane’s words seem to lose power rather than gain power.
Kane’s script is withering, angry, and suicidal. Rand’s stunning,
cross-octave vocal and wounded performance goes some way to helping us sympathise with it, but overall there are no stakes: we never see the woman she longs to be, only the miserable and helpless woman who longs to die. However, with an arresting, theatrical score, this phenomenal cast and instrumental ensemble shed new light on this difficult, provocative work.
Until 4 May 2018. Tickets from £15.