Pleasure at the Lyric Hammersmith
Directed by Tim Albery, composed by Mark Simpson and written by Melanie Challenger, Pleasure is an ironic title for an opera about human misery set in the toilet of a gay bar. Escaping from the harsh realities of a homophobic world through meaningless sexual encounters, but yearning for love, the young patrons still have sparks of hope, while a cynical ageing drag queen, Anna Fewmore (Steven Page), discourages them: “So I made an art of decay. I taught the young men the art of seeking pleasure”.
The men confide in a woman, Val (Lesley Garrett), who works in the loo of the gay bar, and won’t leave because she enjoys mothering the young customers, who tell her tales of woe and joy about their various conquests. One day a young straight man walks in, whom she discovers is her son, lost long ago. He is seduced by one of the patrons, who approaches him with an adoration that soothes his damaged soul: “I’ve never been looked at like that… Do you think it’s possible to separate yourself and become something different?”
Val’s descriptions of her abusive husband and the experience of being a woman are strikingly truthful: “The glances of men… it was so strange… made them follow, made them hungry, and if they couldn’t have it, made them angry.” The words to this opera are stunning and beautiful, but their beauty is somewhat wasted in the opera’s presentation, as it comes across as morose and without sufficient texture and dimension. Likewise the music is outstanding, but would be better served by a less monotone storyline.
The cutting-edge set is well conceived, with enormous letters adorned in pink lights (which constantly change colour) forming the word “pleasure” as a kind of ironic, maze-like structure. The classic nature of the operatics starkly contrasts with the toilet as a set, as if a reflection of the characters’ unhappy lives, but with hope of something more noble.
Pleasure‘s highlights are the libretto, the music, the exceptional vocal abilities of the singers and the brilliant La Cage aux Folles-style, macabre delivery of Steven Page, who steals the show. In general, the performances are first rate, the set is very creative and interesting and the orchestra is excellent. These elements resurrect an opera for which, otherwise, the Pleasure is primarily in the title.
Pleasure is on at the Lyric Hammersmith from 11th until 14th May 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for the production here: