The Second Violinist at the Barbican
Thrilling, visceral and unnerving. These are just some of the words that can be used to describe multi-award winning writer-director Enda Walsh’s new opera, The Second Violinist, staged in partnership with Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera.
Martin (Aaron Monaghan) is a mute violinist – who emerges unexpectedly from the orchestra pit – fraught with a combination of artistic grief and the heartache of a recently ended relationship. With a permanently pained look on his face, the protagonist traverses his flat, receiving numerous phone calls and text messages from both friends and colleagues – alongside the occasional spam message from his local eatery. Set designer Jamie Vartan’s conception provocatively makes use of the Barbican’s space, looming posts indicative of the woods – not unlike the forests of Hansel and Gretel – while Adam Silverman’s lighting blends warm tones, illuminating living room furnishings and bathroom fixtures. Video design by Jack Phelan creates a familiar backdrop, violent games being played alongside Tinder correspondences by Martin, with the addition of melancholic poeticisms reflecting on love and loss: “Beauty, since you are leaving, as you take my heart, take its suffering too.”
Composer Donnacha Dennehy’s music, performed by Crash Ensemble, drives the piece into unsettling waters, with the frenzied string musicians playing furiously, reflecting Martin’s every move and evocative of his moods. Joining him are married couple Matthew (Benedict Nelson) and Amy (Sharon Carty) – who symbolise the second violinist’s later married life – he an unhappy and paranoid husband, and she confused about their relationship and nostalgic after reuniting with university friend Hannah (Máire Flavin.) The trio of soloists perform excellently, bringing humour as they sing operatic vocals in everyday conversational English, commenting on shades of wall colours and their love of pizza and drinking, worlds apart from the classic librettos of centuries past.
Walsh’s latest piece is dark and metaphorical; some elements based on the real-life accounts of Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo. It is a little confusing initially to grasp who the singers are – as they do not acknowledge Martin – but this only contributes to the abstract and ethereal nature of the play. With its layered storytelling, and detailed commentary on modern relationships and loneliness, The Second Violinist triumphs as a work of art that pushes the forms of theatre both visually and acoustically.
Photo: Patrick Redmond
The Second Violinist is at the Barbican from 6th September until 8th September 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.