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My seat at the end of Row B gave me an unparalleled view of the keyboardist’s ankles and little else, but what the hell, this was The Wooster Group: it was going to look odd from any vantage point.
Virtually all of the theatre menu in Jonathan Mills’s first season as director of the Edinburgh International Festival has been tied to music of one form or another: the soul revue of The Bacchae, the Monteverdi/Cole Porter clash of Poppea and now the Wooster’s show, which superimposes on Busenello and Cavalli’s 1641 opera La Didone a 1965 Italian science fiction movie, Planet of the Vampires.
Elizabeth LeCompte’s staging follows the approach taken in the company’s 1997 show House/Lights, which blended a Gertrude Stein opera with a bondage exploitation movie.
Here, the original film plays on video screens visible to the company and sometimes to the audience, so that actors’ lines and gestures are synchronised with their celluloid originals’.
The parallel between the two stories is surprisingly close: Aeneas’s shipwreck on the coast of Libya is matched with the spaceship’s crash on a strange world; the growing despair of Dido corresponds with that of the planet’s predatory natives; Aeneas’s final flight meshes with the lift-off of the spaceship Argos.
The performers wear silvery suits when singing a story told by Virgil and surtitles are projected simultaneously for the film’s dialogue and the Italian libretto, but this only adds to the rich broth.
There is no way of getting to the bottom of a Wooster production: you either buy in for the ride or sit scratching your head. Better to luxuriate in the multimedia presentation and allow the piece to deconstruct and reassemble itself for you as it will.
One of the delights of Edinburgh is the range of material on offer, however narrow the parameters you set.
Within a couple of hours the other evening I encountered extremes of solo storytelling: Benjamin Bagby’s assured but frankly opaque performance of Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon, accompanying himself on Germanic harp; followed by American punk renaissance man Henry Rollins’ engaging account of his inquiring-mind trips to Syria and Iran.
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