Scenes from the End at the Tristan Bates Theatre
Featured at this year’s Camden Fringe, Heloise Werner breathes life into contemporary opera in Scenes from the End by grappling with the one great equaliser: death.
In a macabre study into grieving, masterfully directed by Emily Burns, Werner delivers a solo performance that remains critically aware throughout. It’s stunningly physical and vocal, assisted by composer Jonathan Woolgar, who builds upon the singer’s powerful voice with percussion and recorded speech.
Together, they drive home our insignificance in the universe, and the desperate loneliness this can make us feel. But before it becomes too grim, Scenes from the End skilfully juxtaposes our melancholy against a backdrop of love, silliness, and joy, which often go forgotten in odes to passing on.
A departure from traditional opera, with a focus on natural sounds coming from grief and crying, there are no strong narrative elements, which some may struggle with. Instead, the show is experiential, heavily reliant on empathy and a sense of camaraderie in a world blighted by loss.
Despite Werner’s impassioned and masterful performance, there is a certain disconnect. The choice to forgo traditional storytelling creates a dramatic new portrait of an overdone topic, but it does have its limitations. The first scene mourns the universe, but it’s hard to empathise with something described so generally. Similarly, projected quotes from famous authors ranging from T S Eliot to Carroll, attempt to anchor the recital and are the only form of exposition. It’s understandable why the extracts are there, but inspirational mantras in Arial Bold feel slightly inelegant.
The final scene is noticeably more personal, dealing with Werner’s own loss, and much more relatable in its representation of grief. The lighting, while minimal, plays on this theme, illuminating the audience and exposing them to her impassioned stares, cleverly breaking the fourth wall and encouraging spectators to contend with their own vulnerability.
It’s a profound experience, unorthodox, and sometimes uncomfortable. In spite of this, the production appeals as a lesson in grieving and manages to avoid being preachy. There are heartfelt moments and these will resonate with some more than others, not because of personal proximity to death, but our unique ways of mourning.
It’s the individual approach to a loss that ultimately decides whether this is 45 minutes of deep self-reflection or just a piece of superbly performed avant-garde opera.
Scenes from the End is at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 6th until 10th December 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Scenes from the End here: