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La Didone

Royal Lyceum Theatre
4 stars
When worlds collide onstage, few do it more provocatively than The Wooster Group. Yet the reverent hush that greets the New York veteran pop post modernists melding of Cavalli’s opera based on Dido and Aeneas with 1960s Italian sci-fi flick Planet of the Vampires misses the point somewhat. Because director Elizabeth LeCompte, composer Bruce Odland and a cast of Wooster Group regulars augmented by a four piece band have made an undoubtedly odd but hilarious reconstruction of two lost classics.

When a diva is wheeled on for an opening aria, things appear normal enough. Then you notice the cast are dressed in silver space suits, re-enacting scenes from the film, which is projected on two TV screens behind them. Mic’d up so they sound like they’re speaking through an intercom, they talk side by side with the opera being acted out simultaneously, with the dialogue of both works projected in English surtitles. With the electronic washes of Odland’s added score fizzing out from a kit set up in the middle of the stalls, there’s no pause for breath in what is an irreverent piece of theatrical frottage in which the joins are deliberately and wilfully left exposed.

The actors ham it up something rotten, and when someone asks “What’s going on?”, that the answer is “I wish I knew” is a deliciously knowing in-joke. At times its free-associative whirl, backed by slabs of electric guitar rock baroque, resembles an extended sketch from Saturday Night Live, and one half expects the ghost of John Belushi to wander on dressed as a bumble bee and squirt custard from his mouth. One thinks too of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd’s cartoon reappropriation of Wagner. Throwaway and felicitous La Didone may be, but the attention to detail in its comic book parallel universe is a spaced out fantastic voyage worth tripping out to.

The Herald, August 20th 2007

ends

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