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Sum review at Linbury Studio London

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That infinitely adaptable space the Linbury is reconfigured anew to present this new work, incorporating singing, speech, instrumental accompaniment, video and lighting design. The audience sits on all four sides of a sunken pit where the 14-piece Max Richter Ensemble is stationed. The result feels more like an installation than an opera – partly because so much of the text, based on the cult book SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by the American neuroscientist David Eagleman – is spoken. Sixteen of his short stories – each a kind of reflective leap of imagination into scientifically conceived ideas – are featured. From a philosophical point of view, they’re often fascinating.

What impresses about the evening is not just how well the performers accomplish their difficult tasks but how integrated the whole show is. Lorna Heavey’s videos include figures, letters, words and views of contemporary London. Lucy Carter’s lighting is strongly atmospheric. As well as singing and moving around the space, occasionally interacting with the audience, the three principals have to deliver acres of spoken text. They do so skilfully, even if something derived from a non-narrative book necessarily has little specifically dramatic impact.

Max Richter’s score provides atmosphere, too. It consists largely of simple concords and gentle discords slowly repeated or mutating – it’s fairly straightforward minimalism, plus occasional ambient sounds and some electronics, with a crass Hollywood ending unfortunately tacked on. Admirers of Eagleman might love its generally respectful approach, but conversely it adds little to what one might gain from reading the original. Some books, perhaps, are better left just as books.

Production Information

Linbury Studio, London, May 24-June 2

Max Richter
Wayne McGregor
Andy Massey
Caroline MacPhie, Rupert Enticknap, Damian Thantrey
Running time
1hr 30mins

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