THE COMPOSER, THE SINGER, THE COOK AND THE SINNER / ERARITJARITJAKA
King's Theatre / Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
August, 2004
** / ****

This has been Scotland's wettest summer on record, with torrential downpours, clammy fogs and generally "dreich" weather depressing Edinburgh performers and box office takings alike. It was unfortunate, then, that Carles Santos had chosen dripping water as the visual motif of The Composer, The Singer, The Cook And The Sinner. Doubly appropriate, though: it could stand not just as a tactless comment on the weather, but as an emblem for an International Festival theatre menu that, in terms of interesting offerings, has likewise been largely a washout.

Santos' tribute to the composer Rossini showed his usual visual playfulness and what some would call his usual pointlessness. Programme notes suggest that the Singer (mezzo Claudia Schneider), the Cook (tenor Antoni Comas) and the Sinner (soprano Alina Zaplatina) are embroiled in an incestuous tangle which the Composer (Santos, at the piano) observes. None of this emerges from the staging, which simply consists of a number of... not even scenes; call them moving tableaux... to various extracts by Rossini and by Santos himself. The sinner strokes the Cook's huge inflatable penis, which spurts across the stage; a dozen huge pots simmer, bathed in red light; a black-and-white video sequence shows extreme bodily close-ups in a shower. It all added up, as one audience member remarked on the way out, to 65 minutes of the Emperor's new clothes.

Much more effective as a music-theatre meditation was the Royal Lyceum's offering in the Royal Bank Lates strand, Heiner Goebbels' Eraritjaritjaka musée de phrases. Goebbels, like Santos, is a composer as well as a director and includes some of his own music in the more or less continuous programme played by the Mondriaan String Quartet, beginning with Shostakovich and ranging elsewhere from Bach to Gavin Bryars. The Quartet move around the stage whilst actor André Wilms delivers pensées by Elias Canetti. Midway through the 90-minute piece, a live video feed follows Wilms as he exits the theatre, rides in a car to an apartment a mile and a half away and there cooks himself an omelette, all whilst still delivering lines and, moreover, in perfect sync with the music, so that he chops an onion in unison with a pizzicato passage and so forth. Finally, the trick is revealed: the journey was a recording, and Wilms has all this time been inside the "house" which we had thought a mere two-dimensional backdrop upstage. So, by now, are the Quartet. The piece's musings on words, phrases, language, music and one's place in the world amid all these are not especially precise or revelatory, but they're both more entertaining and more profound than Santos's kerfuffle.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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