Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Damon Albarn's Dr Dee at the ENO (Review)


On Monday night, I had a night off being a mum. My friend Miss L and I went to the opera. More specifically, we went to the opening night of Dr Dee, Damon Albarn's modern opera about John Dee. It was one of those nights which just worked. My husband organised for us to have cocktails beforehand at L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon which is a Michelin starred restaurant (and hearing the words "there is no bill ladies, it's been taken care of" is surely the nicest phrase to hear upon requesting the bill) and then we were upgraded to the second row of the stalls (one row back from the orchestra pit) rather than the tickets we had paid for up in the gods when we arrived at the theatre.

Such great seats surely enhanced our appreciation of Albarn's work, as, no doubt, did the fact that it was opening night and therefore our seats were among the press and invited seats, so we were mingling with the likes of Alex James and the other one from Blur, as well as a panoply of minor actors and other celebs (identified in the press pictures afterwards as random fashion designers, bit part actors and Professor Brian Cox).

I would go so far as to state that I highly suspect that had we been seated in the gods, we would have struggled to follow what was going on, given that the vocals were extremely difficult to hear, aside from the repeated "John Dee". And that, I have to say, was obvious, given that was the title of the thing. Aside from that, there were occasional helpful hints and motifs in the form of text beamed onto the screen, but a careful studying of the programme was required to keep abreast of the action (and we were close enough to see the expressions on their faces).

That said, Dr Dee was visually stunning. I particularly enjoyed the way time was portrayed, both in the opening sequence where English history was rolled back through the decades and centuries to Elizabethan times, and during the performance where there was a repeated motif using shadows and paper to reflect the passing of years of various characters. I also thought the use of the musicians as part of the set was intriguing, particularly Albarn himself who moved in and out of the narrative, suspended above the action in his jeans, trainers and leather jacket, with his guitar. (See him top left in the image above) I was more mystified by the use of helium balloons tied to or held by the actors and have struggled to consider what they may have represented and the scene where Dee must share his wife was disturbingly haunting. I may not have followed what the actors were signing, but the acting left little to the imagination.

Dr Dee is at the ENO London Coliseum now.

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(photo borrowed from the Telegraph - although I don't think their reviewer actually went to the performance, not unless two rooks are a flock and a handful of empty seats can be described as a swathe)

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