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Scenes from the End review at Tristan Bates Theatre, London – ‘sombre and powerful’

Héloïse Werner in Scenes from the End at Tristan Bates Theatre, London. Photo: Nick Rutter
Héloïse Werner in Scenes from the End at Tristan Bates Theatre, London. Photo: Nick Rutter
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For anyone fed up with the Christmas season’s compulsory cheeriness, Scenes from the End, a visceral exploration of loss and grieving, may be the antidote. Sombre and powerful, it’s a tour de force for its sole performer, the 25-year-old soprano Héloïse Werner, a rising figure on the contemporary music scene.

The opera is divided into three parts: the end of the universe, of humanity, and finally, of an individual. Werner fearlessly takes a deep dive into this turbulent sea of emotions. With only a chair, a piano bench and a few other props, and accompanying herself with wooden claves and a bell, she makes great use of her considerable vocal and acting range, portraying a spectrum of emotions as her character grapples with imminent endings. Credit must go to director Emily Burns for fine-tuning Werner’s dramatic persona.

Both the music and the libretto come from one of Werner’s regular collaborators, Jonathan Woolgar, who was BBC Young Composer 2010. Like the soprano Cathy Berberian, whose vocal acrobatics and theatrical prowess fascinated Luciano Berio, Werner must have been a pleasure to write for. Woolgar presumably also provided the pithy titles and the sometimes distracting quotes from poems that are projected against a wall behind the performer.

Scenes from the End is at the Tristan Bates Theatre for six performances on the heels of well-received appearances at this year’s Camden and Edinburgh festivals, and it might be the ideal bleak midwinter moment for many.

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Verdict
Sombre and powerful exploration of loss and grieving
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