Co-produced by Untitled Projects and string orchestra Scottish Ensemble, We Are in Time is a part-lecture, part-opera about the human heart – one human heart in particular, and its journey from person to person.
Written by Pamela Carter and set to music by Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurdsson, it tells the tale of Jay and Stella. He has died in an accident, but his still beating heart could keep Stella alive. Over 90 minutes, we follow its journey from donor to recipient, from hospital to hospital, from death to life.
This isn’t a straightforward story, though. Carter’s script is built out of powerfully prosaic poetry that’s sung by either Jodie Landau’s lifeless Jay or Ruby Philogene’s soon-to-be Stella, and detached description of the surgical science itself, delivered with clinical compassion by Alison O’Donnell.
It’s deliberately distancing and sits well with Sigurdsson’s string score. His is a sound that refuses to settle, surrounding and supporting Carter’s words with fidgety pizzicato, disconcerting harmonies and mournful choruses, all led by violinist Jonathan Morton.
Director Stewart Laing infuses everything with a ritualistic quality. His staging is static and slow, with musicians and performers moving around carefully like surgeons in the operating theatre. Sabrina Henry’s costumes are muted and Mike Brookes’ lighting is stark. A large screen rolls around behind the stage.
The cumulative effect is quite something – a work that weaves together contemporary classical music, philosophical ponderings and hard facts in a moving paean to a modern medical miracle.