Tristan Bates Theatre, 6 – 10 December. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Jonathan Woolgar’s one-woman opera exploring grief and loss is a thing of wonder.
I must admit, for the first few minutes I was a little unsure, wondering what the hell I was going to have to sit through, but Héloïse Werner’s brilliant performance soon had me hooked.
The show is in three parts, signalled by title projections on the otherwise black and bare stage. Quotes from Carl Sagan, TS Eliot and many other notable minds are displayed, which at first feels like a philosophy lecture, but becomes an integral part of the performance as the audience’s engagement grows. Part one deals with the end of the universe, part two with the end of humanity, and part three with the end of a human life.
The cosmic beginning, with musings on oblivion and heat death is interesting and intense – with a strangely hypnotic soundscape produced by Warner bashing a piano stool and showcasing some Olympic strength breath techniques – but the concept of the universe ending is so abstract that this section, although entertaining, doesn’t really engage emotionally. This is probably intentional though, as the grief becomes more personal in each section.
Part two – the end of humanity, sees more vocal gymnastics from Werner as she laughs her way to the end that everyone knew would come. There is a lot of gallows humour here, with Werner portraying rising hysteria and final dull acceptance. The bluesy interlude is a lovely witty touch.
The final part, dealing with personal grief sees a mind blowing performance from Werner, with a long silent fidgety beginning as she steels herself to speak. As she admonishes her listeners to not speak in platitudes and treat her like a child, the raw emotions are extraordinary – you’ll just want to give her a hug.
Woolfgar’s composition is clever and hypnotic, with soaring laments and edgier rhythms all coming together to a gloriously calm and hopeful ending. Werner puts body and soul into her performance, and is a name to watch. Stunning.