LIFE WITH AN IDIOT FEATURE
production. not only on the level f sneaking a look at sexual acts. but in various. more disturbing. ways — from neighbours at windows spying through the flat’s invisible fourth wall. to the devilish red eyes that watch over the pit-of- hell that is the asylum.
‘What we wanted was a kind of Orwellian “Big Brother Is Watching You” feeling.’ explains Moore. ‘Like with the Stasi in East Germany. there’s a sense that you’re under some sort of surveillance. a kind of state paranoia. And with the chorus. like when they‘re watching the shagging scene. you get a feeling that it’s implicating the audience in what they’re
‘Opera’s supposed to challenge, wake you up and shake you up, make you laugh and make you cry, turn your world around tor a couple at hours and really make you
watching as well. You’re playing visual games with the idea of surveillance and privacy and state intervention, and how that leaves the freedom of the individual. That’s why the flat splits into two: you get the feeling that the time is out of joint. that something’s very wrong within this state.
‘Then you go beyond the politics and into the realms of the universal — of murder and terror and evil. It really does look into the abyss. We live in fractured. violent times, and I think you’d be a real bottle-out merchant as an artist if you try and ignore all that. But Schnittke does it with humour and humanity, with unashamedly passionate music and fantastic choral writing. You get the feeling there’s tongue-in-cheek there, but there are also times when you can hear the author’s voice; you can hear when he’s really behind it and he really means something.’
The music is not as atonal and difficult as might at first be feared; Schnittke is an unashamed polystylist. freely borrowing and stealing from other composers and creating some beautifully lyrical passages. At times. of course. the score is strident and dramatic. but as such it is part of an overall equation that includes David Blight’s boldly conceived design and Moore’s physically demanding direction. As an experienced actor and playwright himself. as well as the director who premiered Mark Anthony Turnage’s opera Creek at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1989. Moore is not one to treat singers as props with good voices, who are casually arranged on stage so as not to bump into the furniture. He asks a lot of his cast. and it is returned with interest — you’ll rarely see acting this good in an opera production. And if that means being able to sing while swinging from a chandelier and sporting an erection of superhuman proportions, so be it.
The creative forces behind Life With An Idiot — composer, librettist, director — are continually touching on other sources. There’s the unspecified crime of Kafka, the sexual catalyst of Pasolini’s Theorem, the social breakdown by taboo of Bunuel, the tragic tears of laughter in Russian and Irish literature, the ‘hell is other people’ of Sartre. In conversation, Moore ranges from Dostoevsky to Dylan Thomas to Nick Homby (the last drawing parallels between the anticipation of a melodic moment during the more turgid passages of avant-garde music and the slow, passing-play build-up that hopefully
precedes a goal in football). This range of
references is all-embracing and. in its way.
Above and top: Vova the “idiot” on the trail of bloody murder and insanity
makes for an accessible production that is. in opera terms. very Iiuropean and totally un- British a fact that might enrage the black-tie brigade. but should delight those who open themselves to the true potential of the art.
‘l’m not really into deliberately wanky. esoteric referencesjust for the sake of it.‘ argues Moore. "I’hat doesn’t mean I’m against any kind of intellectually or politically complex pieces — in fact. the opposite — but it’s a much harderjob to make clear something that's very complex than it is just to deliberately obscure the issue because you don’t have a bleeding clue how to direct it. I’m unashamedly populist in that sense. I want to tell the audience a story. I want them to get what we’re trying to put across, no matter how complex it is. or paradoxical. or subtle. or weird.
‘lt’s connected to a kind of snobbery. the kind of stuff that’s done in the opera houses. Whose stories are you telling? What areas of life are you going into‘.’ If you feel like I do. that opera’s supposed to challenge. wake you up and shake you up. make you laugh and make you cry. turn your world around for a couple of hours and really make you experience something. then you’ve got to drag people kicking and screaming into the 21st century.’ J Life With All [that is performed at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, (m I], 16, 20 and 25 May. and at the Iletnhurg/z l‘estit'a/ Theatre on 8 June.
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Above and left: David Blight’s bold costume designs add vlsual richness to the production
J The List 5-18 May l995 9