Shared once again with the New York Met is ENO’s latest production, a new work by the modish, media-savvy 29-year-old American composer Nico Muhly, attracting solid attention to the company right at the end of its season.
Nicky Spence (Brian) and Joseph Beesley (Boy; real Jake) in Two Boys at the London Coliseum. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Based around a real case that took place in Manchester in 2003, it describes the criminal enquiry following the stabbing of one teenage boy by another. At first it looks relatively simple. But further investigation reveals how one of the two has been manipulated by multiple internet identities created by the other into committing a near-fatal crime on his person. That both are essentially children makes it all the more shocking.
In Craig Lucas’ libretto as clearly set to music by Muhly and staged by Bartlett Sher, the story is well and swiftly told. Though the device of the female detective inspector with a few easily recognisable traits overseeing the investigation takes us towards the level of the US TV mini-series, Susan Bickley’s brisk, businesslike Anne Strawson is an effective if artificial creation, linking events both pre- and post-crime. Nicky Spence is extraordinarily credible as Brian, lured into a cyber-world he does not understand, and the apparently multiple individuals he gets mixed up with are brilliantly personified, with the final one, Joseph Beesley’s tragically vulnerable teenage boy, emerging as indelibly moving.
Sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, video by Fifty Nine Productions, and Rumon Gamba’s conducting all contribute to an impressive launch. Only Muhly’s score, too much of it registering as a commonplace and ultimately thin soundtrack accompaniment, disappoints.