The much heralded and speculated over Gaddafi arrives to open ENO’s season. A project associated with the departed Sean Doran, the work is not described as an opera and isn’t in any meaningful sense. Apart from a few tiny choral sections, Shan Khan’s rap-like verse text is spoken over a flimsy incidental score, incorporating north African musicians as well as Asian Dub Foundation’s heavy beat, conducted by James Morgan.
Dramatically, this is not just the story of Libya’s charismatic leader, hated by the West for decades until a recent rapprochement with Tony Blair (who makes an appearance in the show) but of Libya since 1911 and occasionally the temptation to stuff in too much history clogs the flow. Elsewhere the piece relies mainly on the abundant energy of actor Ramon Tikaram in the title role. None of the other parts have any meat, though Martin Turner’s Reagan is noticeable as far as the cardboard-cut out parody allows him to be.
Visually, things are better, with director David Freeman, designer Es Devlin and video design from Burst TV London at least keeping up a momentum of imagery. But dramatically the piece is naive and patronising, while the music does little more than add a bit of vaguely relevant atmosphere. If your local sixth form college could come up with something like this, you’d be proud of them. But at ENO it looks and sounds like under achievement, big time.
Coliseum, London, September 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16
- Steve Chandra Savale and Asian Dub Foundation
- David Freeman
- English National Opera
- Cast includes
- Ramon Tikaram, Martin Turner
- Running time
- 2hrs 20mins