Wednesday 5 March 2014

Bukowski's Cass - Opera Viscera @ Vault Festival 2014

Theatre is often at its best when it’s thought-provoking, asking the audience to question their own morals and beliefs.  Yet the rather baffling Bukowski’s Cass from Opera Viscera leaves the audience with far more questions than answers.

Contrary to the company name, Bukowski’s Cass isn’t an opera.  Instead it’s a multi-disciplinary work that combines elements of traditional theatre, dance, music and song into a single piece of storytelling, based on the writer’s “most elusive character” and her tumultuous sexual relationship with a man known as ‘the Beast’.  It's a hugely ambitious undertaking, but the disparate elements don’t combine into a cohesive whole. 

The plot is predominantly told through voiceover, but the actual character of this narration is never made explicit.  As a female voice it appears to be a separate character, but the words themselves are taken directly from Bukowski’s writing from the point of view of the Beast as an internal monologue.  The voiceover (in an American accent) lends the piece a noir feel, yet the accompanying music is mostly Latin (excellently performed by the two instrumentalists and two female singers), the actors speak in English accents, and the ‘Bargirl’ appears to be Russian.  It’s a confusing mix that never really cements a sense of location.

Bukowski’s short story has a relatively simple plot, here made overly complex with a production littered with symbolism in its use of props, dance, music and projection.  At the least, the actors commit wholeheartedly to their roles: Kitty Dalton’s Cass a dirty Carmen-esque seductress, James Fowler’s Beast her hapless victim.  Together their erotic tension is palpable, even if much of their dance involves tumbling on the floor.  It’s clear that director Lia Ikkos has attempted to imbue this production with layers of meaning, but sadly much of the visual poetry is lost on the audience - set in the round, their collective confusion is all too visible. 

This is ultimately an experimental, if bizarre, new work that blurs traditional theatrical lines into a muddled kitchen sink of ideas that lacks a clear sense of storytelling.  The vodka shots handed to the audience at the start are a welcome addition, but whether they’re to heighten our poetic senses or placate us is unclear.


Watch: Bukowski’s Cass is performed as part of the Vault Festival until March 8th.