Monday 25 April 2016

Show, don't tell - Clocks 1888: the greener

Keisha Atwell and Patricia Rozario, Clocks 1888 the greener - Hackney Empire  - photographer Ed Sunman
Keisha Atwell and Patricia Rozario, Clocks 1888 the greener - photographer Ed Sunman
Martin Ward Clocks 1888: the greener; Keisha Atwell, Patricia Rozario, Dickon Gough, Adam Temple Smith; Hackney Empire
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Apr 22 2016
Star rating: 3.0

Intriguing new opera marred by over amplification and tendency to over-explain

Keisha Atwell - Clocks 1888 the greener - Hackney Empire  - photographer Ed Sunman.jpg
Keisha Atwell - photographer Ed Sunman
Clocks 1888: the greener at the Hackney Empire, 22nd April 2016, created and produced by Brolly, Rachana Jadhav & Dominic Hingorani, with music by Martin Ward with Keisha Atwell, Patricia Rozario, Dickon Gough, Adam Temple Smith.

A 'greener', according to the publicity for this sort-of opera that has been playing at CAST in Doncaster and the Hackney Empire, is "a slang term for a newly arrived foreign immigrant often perceived as heathen and ignorant". The Greener in this show was a mixed-race Londoner, not a recent arrival, who has operated a clock in the East End for many years. This was the feisty teenager character. The other three characters were an older, world-weary Indian woman (Ma), an idealistic, upper-class romantic tenor lead (the Author) and a hectoring bass-baritone (the Coster) à-la Scarpia or Iago. I wouldn’t exactly call them stereotypes, but they did spend most of the show declaiming their world-view at the audience and barely interacted with each other.

The situation is full of contemporary resonances: a young man sets out to understand why the workers are unhappy, and falls in love with an East Ender who is more interested in science than politics or tenors from the West End. Two other characters have been trying to educate the ingénue in their view of the status quo, but she decides to stay put and make her own way, rather than go off to a better life with the son of capitalists. It was all about class and Empire, and the impossibility of understanding how the other half lives.

Yet as an evening out, it was strangely unengaging.

Keisha Atwell, Dickon Gough - photo Ed Sunman
Keisha Atwell, Dickon Gough - photo Ed Sunman
The four voices – three classically trained and one music-theatre – were all amplified (actually massively over-amplified). The two women had occasional problems with intonation, but on the whole it was well sung and very well played with a small (again amplified) band of classical violin (Fra Rustumji) and cello (Jamie Pringle), piano (Yshani Perinpanayagam) and percussion – with some lovely atmospheric moments evoking the Indian sub-continent, the East End and so on. It looked great. The set was the workings of a giant public clock, though it didn’t help to characters to talk to each other (hence the hectoring?). We were told what to think: the free printed programme provided more information than we needed, so there was no feeling that we, or they, were on a journey. This was the first of a trilogy from Brolly. Let’s hope that between now and the next ones they remember "show, don't tell" and that they ask whether a chamber opera really needs to be miked up.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Creative Team
Libretto by Dominic Hingorani
Composed by Martin Ward
Designed by Rachana Jadhav

Keisha Atwell (Greener)
Patricia Rozario OBE (Ma)
Dickon Gough (Coster)
Adam Temple Smith (Author)

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