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Tete a Tete Festival review at RADA Studio, London – ‘a music-theatre party bag’

Nadine Benjamin in BEAM at RADA Studio, London. Photo: Claire Shovelton

The Tete a Tete festival’s mixed bills are a music-theatre party bag. There might be the odd liquorice nightmare in there, but you still go home with a skip in your step.

In BEAM, Nadine Benjamin sings excerpts from German Lied and Italian opera while outlining her own story of an abusive childhood, partying adulthood, collapse and rehabilitation. With a spoken narrative joined by photo stills and an audio collage of Benjamin’s voice in less classical guises, this work-in-progress has a powerful story to tell.

Voice(less) juxtaposes two commissions for voice and electronics. Both feature recorded interviews with people self-identifying as female and/or non-binary, on the topic of losing your voice, both physically and metaphorically. Mezzo-soprano Rosie Middleton maintains a distanced, 1,000-yard stare throughout, coinciding at times with fragments and repetitions of the taped words, and, in the second piece, using a violin as an aid to utterance. The execution is innovative but the overall effect is a little arch. (Or is the other way around?)

One Art is the story of American poet Elizabeth Bishop: successful, gay and prone to drink. Soprano Laure Meloy leads us through letters, readings and a handful of songs. It’s an extraordinary performance, gripping for Meloy’s freshness and nuance, as if the whole thing were unscripted.

The Cruel Sister is based on a folk ballad in which, on the eve of her wedding, a bride-to-be is killed by her jealous sister. A violin is made from the woman’s remains. Meanwhile, the evil sister has taken her sibling’s place as bride, only to be exposed and castigated at the wedding feast. There’s black humour and some good performances here, but the music often sounds like a parody of Victorian parlour songs with a gothic twist. On the other hand, the audience gets wedding cake.

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Verdict
A typically wide-ranging selection, whose greatest strength – and weakness – lies in allowing all-comers
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