Thursday, December 8, 2016

Review: 'Scenes from the End' at the Tristan Bates Theatre, 7th December 2016

A great operatic voice cuts right you down to the bone. Héloïse Werner does just that in this touching, gripping and understandably morose study of death. Over the three acts of this one woman opera, Werner and composer Jonathan Woolgar get to grips with subjects as cosmic as the heat death of the universe, inevitable as the eventual extinction of the human race and the lonely death of every individual human being.

To a backdrop of quotes from poets, scientists and philosophers ("This is the way the world ends / not with a bang but a whimper" - T.S. Eliot / "The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent." - Carl Sagan), Werner delivers a striking vocal performance that oscillates between pure, perfect musical notation, guttural cries of misery and mantra-like chanting ("oblivion.. oblivion..."). All that takes place on a pitch black stage, the only live musical accompaniment two black sticks she rhythmically bashes together and a tiny cymbal that produces a shiver inducingly piercing note. 

At her most miserable Werner makes us feel like voyeurs, peering in on sadness usually screamed into pillows in 2am black hole lonelinesses. But, though Werner is the emotional fulcrum on which Scenes from the End turns, the coolly minimalist staging creates a detachment that lets us analyse rather than be overwhelmed.

Werner and Woolgar's gradual zooming in from the death of the universe to the death of the individual creates a secular spiritual continuity between us and the cosmos. Realistically, it's impossible for us to truly grapple with the universe dying: every atomic, chemical and molecular process gradually coming to a halt, the stars releasing the last of their energy, leaving behind nothing but an empty, lifeless void (a process scientists have evocatively named 'The Big Yawn'). The human race won't be around to experience it - yet it's all too easy to map this infinite blank emptiness onto personal experiences of depression and mourning.

But the next section, about the extinction of the human race is sadly somewhat less difficult to imagine than it was a year ago. You try and tell yourself that though history ebbs and flows, decency, intelligence and justice eventually prevail over stupidity and hate. Well, maybe they don't. Woolgar and Werner's elegy for a human species voraciously consuming its natural resources and destroying our planetary life support system is reproachful: "We have done well, but we forgot to survive".

Watching this sets off all kinds of philosophical sparkings. Perhaps too-late pushes towards ecological, sustainable living run counter to every animal instinct we possess? After all humanity has spent 10,000 years successfully tapping into its lust to build, reproduce, conquer, refine and expand. Can we truly stop now - is trying as futile as a colony of ants collectively choosing not to construct an anthill, or a spider making the decision not to spin a web?

This all sharpens the idea of personal loss - highlighting the individual amongst the masses. As Stalin memorably said: "one death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic". Werner explores the reactions to loss, from the intense physical pain of grieving to the platitudes offered by onlookers. The programme explains that Werner is channelling her own pain into this performance, and the naked honesty of the thing is palpable.

Scenes From the End isn't liable to send you skipping out into London's Christmas lights with a glint in your eye and a song in your heart. It is, however, a smart and moving dip into dark waters we all have to navigate at one point or another. What it definitely isn't is an unalloyed miserybomb, Scenes from the End might stare down darknesss, but it does so meditatively. I really enjoyed myself.


Scenes from the End is at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 10th December. Tickets here.

Tags: , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'Scenes from the End' at the Tristan Bates Theatre, 7th December 2016”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights