Festival Opera


Festival Theatre

Keith Bruce

five stars

WHAT a radical work is Mark-Anthony Turnage's first opera, co-commissioned by the Edinburgh Festival and seen at Leith Theatre in 1988, even after thirty years.

Playwright Steven Berkoff – given a huge cheer when he made his unsteady way on to the stage at the curtain call – may have given Turnage the raw material with his brutal London East End re-working of the Oedipus story, but it is as a bold modern revision of the 500-year-old art form that it has such impact. There are more vulgar words to come, but the opening "chorus" of the singers chanting "nah/leave off/Arsenal" sets the tone for music that is as demanding of attention as the language, which marks Berkoff out as the orginator of in-yer-face theatre before the term was coined.

Joe Hill-Gibbins's production for Opera Ventures and Scottish Opera places the four performers in front of a revolving white wall with two doorways that covers some lightning-fast scene and costume changes and also acts as a projection screen for work created on a table-top in the pit, where greasy-spoon breakfast ingredients are mixed with live maggots to add a further frisson.

All of which means that Susan Bullock, Allison Cook, Andrew Shore and Alex Otterburn are required to do a great deal more than sing, although all do that superbly as well as deliver the non-sung text. For Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Alex Otterburn in particular, the central role of Eddy is a huge achievement.

So too is the work of the musicians of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera with their own unusual array of kit in the pit, and another feather in the cap of the company's music director Stuart Stratford.