Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

IT MAY have been explicitly created in partnership with the Edinburgh International Festival as part of the bumper programme of opera in its 70th birthday programme last year – having been premiered by the Festival thirty years earlier – but it was important that this revival of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s bold early work was also seen at Scottish Opera’s home venue. Music director Stuart Stratford was unequivocal to me at the end of Saturday’s performance that the production is the most significant thing achieved on his watch so far.

It is a work that requires, and has, a superb ensemble of four. Susan Bullock, Allison Cook and Henry Waddington all give remarkable performances (demandingly physical, and also much more nuanced than perhaps at first appears), while Greek has made an instant star of baritone and “Emerging Artist” Alex Otterburn, now represented by a major agency and soon back with Scottish Opera in Ariadne auf Naxos.

You might argue that the central role of Eddy affords him little opportunity to actually sing, but the point is that when he does it is startling – a unique and original voice – and he handles the rest of the demanding role with precocious aplomb.

In the Theatre Royal, with the revolving white wall of the set on a platform built out into the auditorium, the production had an intimacy that surpassed the performances at the Festival Theatre. Steven Berkoff, who wrote the libretto from his own play, is of course the godfather of so-called in-yer-face theatre, and the fetishistic costuming, garish projections and explicit language in this Greek are certainly that. The scenes between Cook and Otterburn in particular recalled the verbal sparring of Berkoff’s once-ubiquitous Fringe two-hander, Decadence. In other ways, the model is much earlier: front-of-the-cloth routines from vaudeville and music-hall.

In the pit, the soloists of the Orchestra of Scottish Opera were on first class form as a deranged cabaret band, under the baton of Finnegan Downie Dear. From the ingredients of its 1988 conception to every element of the creative team in this revival, this Greek is a classic of our time.