It's Not Your Conventional Operetta - but It Is Stylish; Review

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), November 22, 1997 | Go to article overview
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It's Not Your Conventional Operetta - but It Is Stylish; Review


Do that nicely, I do that nicely, I do very nicely do that.

And leave me the I leave to you all the rest of the revelation.

Puzzled? About to rush into berating me for bad grammar?

Don't, for I am only quoting Mizz Gertrude Stein, whose surrealism permeates Robert Wilson's Saints and Singing, yet another original hit Festival event that's art enough and brilliant enough to make any Festival foam with rage at not having it.

These peculiar lines from Miss Stein, the ultimate gadabout surrealist, do very nicely indeed for Robert Wilson's 'operetta' which he has created from Miss Stein's original libretto, with nowt more alteration than a bit of transposition and some juggling with image sequence.

Saints and Singing isn't your conventional operetta but it is stylish, superb theatre, moulded in the style of the legendary Berliner cabaret.

Occasionally, when the stage and auditorium goes completely dark, it is an exemplary lesson in how to create nothing out of nothing, but more often, Wilson creates magnificence from simple style, gesture and body language, all the while counterpointed by the script, decorated as it is throughout by fanciful curliques of speech and thought.

Mostly though, there is something fascinating there and you sense it from the moment this theatre starts to take off.

The opener is a mime that could be a Breughel painting of the Last Supper or alternately a scene from a Donizetti opera. As the audience enters, the actors adopt posturing stylised poses, staging perplexing and enigmatic tableaux, which end in ...but I dare not tell you, for it would utterly spoil the fun of this huge, visual but silent joke for those lucky enough to see - nay, to experience, this extraordinary act of theatre.

It is done and delivered in familiar Wilson style, black satirical, tongue- in-cheek subversive humour, elegantly choreographed syncopated movement on a bare stage, more frequently developing scenes blended, developed, repeated, contrasted, performance art, where lighting, angular lines, props and costumes all reach up to achieve a dominating A shape, isolated elements and the whole often combining to chisel an ongoing, steepled effect.

Surreal throughout, these 'Saints' sing in a new dimension, amid a plethora of forms and shapes, some substantial, some ethereal, but all completely absorbing to those willing to allow their mental processes be taken-over by Wilson's projections.

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