Pleasure: A Chamber Opera

Pleasure: A Chamber Opera

Presented by Opera North, Royal Opera and Aldbergh Music
Liverpool Playhouse
4th May 2016

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Composer: Mark Simpson
Director: Tim Albery
Psappa Ensemble Conductor: Nicholas Kok
Libretto: Melanie Challenger
Lesley Garrett (soprano) Val
Timothy Nelson (baritone) Nathan
Steven Page (baritone) Anna Fewmore
Nick Pritchard (tenor) Matthew

Something from new kid on the block Mark Simpson that’s chasing a different younger audience. Pleasure is a single act 75 minutes of unremitting in your face chamber opera with shattering consequences.

Behind a glitzy night club’s fun space a predatory underworld awaits the unwary and skeletons of the past will raise their ugly heads; still the naive and hedonistic, like Matthew, turn up to the lair of old eccentric and theatrically dressed ‘bitch’ Anna Fewmore, (the more the merrier in his case!), who is always on the look out for fresh meat. Leather jacketed newcomer Nathan though has different fish to fry.

The tripartite action takes place in the toilet, ill-lit bin bay and a detergents storeroom. This latter, a sanctum replete with trademark tea bags and knitting needles, is deep in the bowels of a 21st century gay club and belongs to Val, the female attendant. A confidant of Anna, she is the maternal shoulder to cry on when disillusioned drug and alcohol infused young liaisons go wrong. She lives a reclusive half-life behind the huge kaleidoscopic neon tubes straddling the stage which spell out the intoxicating name of this man trap.

The opening chords, from an up in the gods Psappa Ensemble, pump out a sombre reprise as a serious looking newcomer trawls the shadows before the dowdily dressed middle aged woman reflects on her stunted existence amongst the ‘vomit, the shit, the piss’. The uncompromising librettist Challenger, is not afraid to put words into the mouth of the famous diva who exults with relish her self styled nom de plume ‘The Slapper in the Crapper!’ in a duet with an equally inventive Anna.

On the shelves amongst the toiletries has been amassed a collection of anonymous crafted metallic trinkets cast by one who was himself cast out by a brutal father and which now ensnare a mother who could not stop that outrage, all those years ago.

The stranger (Nathan), who attracts Matthew and repels Anna in equal turns, also has Val on edge as her own youthful and good looking days come back to haunt her. The anguish and tension in the music accompanying the reunion duet is full of violent threat and self denial as the action comes to a distressing climax.

How will it end?

Improvisation in the garish lighting of Malcolm Rippeth and costume designs of Leslie Travers add to the drama ratcheted up on the minimalist stage from Director Tim Albery. Credit all round, but the plaudits go above all to Simpson for conceiving the project in 2008 from his own personal experiences and formulating this impressive collaboration to take an evolving art form to another level.

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