by Rachel Beaumont

latest archive about contact

Tiny tarnishing: Greek at Grimeborn

Arcola Theatre, Studio 1
Balcony H15, £15
13 August 2018
Arcola page

My delight was ecstatic on my first exposure to Greek a few years ago in Music Theatre Wales’s production. The opera has persisted shimmeringly in my mind since then, a beacon of Turnage’s metal that I’ve left unperturbed except for a bit of burnishing when newer works fall short. So Grimeborn’s Greek is my second time round and while the icon may be tarnished a little – there are a few faint flaws in this opera I either didn’t notice or forgot – this is still a pretty fantastic piece and a pretty fantastic show.

What’s fantastic about it? I single out the percussion, the writing for which pulses with bravura complexity that never loses its hip-swagger glint, its knowing self-conscious sex-appeal. But really it’s the same sense that runs through everything: an excited experimentation tempered by cool lip-curls, a desire to please that remembers to keep the audience in fond contempt – in short, it’s a whole lot of fun that tries hard in all the right ways and few of the wrong. And what are the flaws? Certain sections outstay their welcome, with the effect that the pace of ideas doesn’t feel as thick and fast as it is.

Jonathan Moore’s Grimeborn Greek maybe allows the flaws a little more air time than they had with MTW, I think principally because budget sometimes pinches a theatricality which might have papered over the opera’s wrinkles; personally I would have cut the projections of rioting London in favour of something a little more snazzy for the eye-gouging scene, but no doubt such decisions were numerous and challenging. On the whole what they’ve done with the resources works well, the LED strips giving a hint of neon that I choose to read as homage to the opera’s 80s origins, although given the insertion of wifi references into this revised adaptation perhaps that’s just me.

As at The Rape of Lucretia the standards of the musicians are gratifyingly high, although I wept a few painful tears thinking what the players of the Kantanti Ensemble must be feeling with all that percussion right by them, given how painful it felt on the other side of the room. Seemingly inured, led by conductor Tim Anderson they assayed admirably the opera’s bouts of bizarrity in a mostly clean and unfussed account.

The writing for voice sung and spoken in this opera is its triumph, a cheer-delivering show-off display of what can be done with vocal quartet. The spoken suffers a little with this four, who seem not always to have the guidance they should have on how to make the most of words without music (another factor that occasionally allows the opera’s seams to creak) – but all have the music side of things almost entirely under their control and commit completely and often brilliantly to its mad-dictator demands. I was particularly impressed by soprano Philippa Boyle, her searing perfect-pitch bundles of decibels giving the bass drum a run for its money.

No comments yet.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

<< Dreamland empire: Pelléas et Mélisande at Glyndebourne

Great production, but can I see it written down please?: Exit the King at the National Theatre >>