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Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival 2015

James Fisher as Ezdeyev in Life Stories at the Place, London. Photo: Radius

Tete à Tete is the annual explosion of music theatre of all shapes, styles and hues. This year’s first night brought three typically wide-ranging shows. Featuring cast members who have experienced homelessness, People Watch is in effect Gogglebox: The Opera, with a cast of around 30 settled into sofas and armchairs for an evening’s viewing. The banality of television – the celebrity reality shows, the ads for cleaning products, performing pets – comes over strongly, but the ending is a rousing chorus of hope and of TV’s transformative powers.

The subject of first night’s second show is the Jamaican heroine Queen Nanny, the spiritual and military leader who led the Maroons into battle with the British in the 1720s. Sung and danced with grace by Abigail Kelly (accompanied by three additional dancers), it has a satisfying episodic feel, connected by (not very audible) narration. Live drums and muted trumpet create atmospheric effects, but sadly the score is largely rendered by electronic keyboard sounds. A further small group of live musicians would have made all the difference, but Kelly’s natural musical abilities emerged unscathed.

Tim Benjamin’s double bill, Life Stories, is a pair of affecting monologues. The first is from Ezdeyev, a homeless Russian man whose life falls apart through drink, gambling and ill health. Bass James Fisher responds well to the fragmentary, stream-of-consciousness text and brings refined acting. The writing in the second monologue, for Amy – a rejected 18th-century middle-class lady turned highwaywoman – is less convincing overall, yet Taylor Wilson inhabits the role completely, and produces a death scene of rare power that is profoundly tragic and deeply credible.

Verdict
Pros: something of a curate’s egg; Cons: something of a curate’s egg

Production

Production
People Watch/Sacred Mountain: Incidents in the Life of Queen Nanny of the Maroons/Life Stories
Venue
The Place, London
City
London
Starts
July 21, 2015
Ends
August 9, 2015
Press night
July 21, 2015
Composer
Stef Conner/Shirley Thompson/Tim Benjamin
Director
Bill Bankes-Jones/Dane Hurst/Tim Benjamin
Conductor
Timothy Burke/Shirley Thompson/Antony Brannick
Design
Sarah Booth/Chi Ebileh/Amy Westwood
Technical
Jenna Omeltschenko (producer), Andrew Steel (production manager), Laura Thatcher (stage manager), Samantha Ashleigh Hayhurst (assistant stage manager), Catherine Connell (company manager)/none credited/Verity Sturdy (stage manager), Tom Sutcliffe (lighting designer), Jenny Sheldon (producer)
Cast includes
Susannah Austin, Michelle James, Rob Gildon/Abigail Kelly, Kym Alexander, Tania Dimbelolo, Monique Jonas, Cleveland Watkiss/James Fisher, Taylor Wilson
Producer
Streetwise Opera, Tete a Tete/STM/Radius
Running time
35mins/40mins/1hr 15mins