Operet Opera Operec / Words and Music review at Hackney Round Chapel – ‘an experimental double bill’

Scene from Operet Opera Operec / Words and Music at Hackney Round Chapel, London Scene from Operet Opera Operec / Words and Music at Hackney Round Chapel, London
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How do you stage a radio play? In the case of this presentation by the contemporary/experimental music and performance group An assembly, essentially you don’t.

Written by Samuel Beckett for radio in 1961, Words and Music originally had a score by the playwright’s cousin, John S Beckett, but in 1987 the American composer Morton Feldman provided new music for the piece.

Here An Assembly’s founder, Jack Sheen, conducts the result with the actors hidden from view and the seven-piece ensemble playing behind a curtain. In this instance, it’s all about what you hear – not what you see.

Yet paradoxically this approach has the benefit of enabling you to concentrate on the words and the music of the title – or it would if the over-resonant acoustic didn’t hide so much of the text. Still, Peter Clements (Words) and Alex Felton (Croak) give Beckett’s text emphasis and eloquence, while Feldman’s delicate, understated score is beautifully realised.

The acoustic problem obtrudes, if rather less damagingly, in the first half, which despite its title suggesting an opera is basically a danced song-cycle setting words by the French surrealist poet Benjamin Peret.

Composer Anton Lukoszevieze’s score for six instrumentalists (including four cellos) is striking in its detail and imaginative power. High-flying soloist Josephine Stephenson offers a haunting vocal quality and conveys the atmosphere of the piece, if not necessarily all the words.

Adding a special visual element to this half of the evening is the mesmeric movement of dancer Rachel Krische, which at different times both complements and contradicts the character of the score. Like Words and Music, this memorable piece might have made an even stronger artistic impression had the evening possessed better organisational skill.

Two distinctive works are skilfully performed in a worthwhile experimental double bill