sun 18/08/2019

In The Penal Colony, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury Studio Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

In The Penal Colony, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury Studio Theatre

In The Penal Colony, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury Studio Theatre

Philip Glass's chamber opera makes for painful viewing

The Officer (Omar Ebrahim) contemplates his beloved machineClive Barda
The pairing of Philip Glass and Franz Kafka is a natural one. A shared fascination with obsession, with developing a simple premise to its most densely worked-out, most logical conclusion is evident in both, and it is only perhaps surprising that it took until 2000 for Glass to produce In The Penal Colony. Exploiting the minimal surroundings of the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre to maximal effect, this UK premiere production forgoes inference and suggestion in favour of all-out confrontation, etching its message brutally into the audience.

A performance whose aggressive intimacy is almost unwatchably painful

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Has the author of this review actually read Kafka's short story? To describe it as a "delicate fable" is to use English in a way I don't understand. If "delicate" means graphical horror described in gut-wrenching detail, then it is indeed "delicate". I have read the story but have not seen the opera. In fact the possibility that it is in any way as grim and depressing as the short story deterred me. However, my sense from other reviews I have read is that far from being "torture-porn" Glass's work leaves a lot to the imagination.

When I described Kafka's story as a 'delicate fable' i was referring to its impeccably balanced layers of allegory and allusion. It's far from just being a tale about capital punishment, but if you disturb one of its elements however it can very easily be reduced to such. "Delicate" does not describe its impact, but the filigree precision of its structuring.

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