The emotional potential of an opera aria, or even a lament, is perfectly placed to convey the anguish and nonsense surrounding grief – a concept that is ultimately impossible to describe despite death being an inevitable and necessary part of life, a means by which it is defined. Performer Héloïse Werner performs three interrelated scenarios to Jonathan Woolgar’s Scenes from the End, in which grief acts as the central force driving the singer through the show yet allowing her pause to stop and question the absurdity of it all.
Werner has a physical presence, overtly expressive and able to seamlessly jump between distinct personality types. In the second lament, she conveys the hustle and bustle of the mundane, the everyday, by repeating voices, occupations and people with ease. Accelerating above the din, Woolgar’s melody pushes forward through life until ultimately, the staccato drive culminates in the end of humanity itself. “Does it matter? We are here.” A question by which Werner dismisses this greater concern – why worry about the inevitable? As a representative of the human race, she laments the end with grim determination as the metallic chime rings in the changes. An impactful middle section to a show that otherwise lacks substance in favour of idea.
Emily Burns’ direction places Werner centre stage a large portion of the time – only in the first lament for the end of the universe does she utilise the space and the sparse accompanying props with any effect. Singing a cappella is a brave choice that exposes any small flaw – Werner’s vocal improves as it warms up but starts off rough around the edges and with a lack of precision in key melismatic phrases. Overall she has a powerful tone that fills the small Tristan Bates Theatre space, but needs more support to give clarity to the softer side of her top register. Abigail Waller’s projections, intended to support the story, ultimately detract from Werner’s message, an additional set of quotes that highlight the futility of existence but draw focus away from the actual performance.
“One last weep”, a final moment to emphasise the raw pain of losing an individual life, perhaps of a loved one. In many ways it is easier to speak of personal loss, but Werner is stuck for words, nothing to say but a long, chromatic wail that crescendos to the peak of her range, another point with no structure to cement its impact.
Scenes from the End is very much a concept performance. Opera singer Werner explores the theme of grief on a scale that encompasses the singular individual and the whole of the universe. But the show needs a singular vision to hang itself upon. Woolgar’s composition ultimately flits between through patterns without pause of breath to consider and develop, a showcase with a low attention span that can’t focus on one area long enough for the audience to appreciate its impact.
Music & Lyrics: Jonathan Woolgar
Director: Emily Burns
Design: Abigail Waller
Cast: Héloïse Werner
Runs until 10 December 2016 – see the Tristan Bates Theatre website to book tickets
Post-script: Scenes From The End experienced technical difficulties for this particular performance. This review is therefore an analysis of the show in its reduced form.