Review: Three Tales

CHLOE MASHITER is surprised by the bizzare and wonderful evening of video-opera, whatever that is.

ADC ADC theatre Dolly Opera Richard Dawkins Three Tales

Tuesday 16th-Saturday 20th, 11.00 at the ADC Theatre.  £4-6.

I think Three Tales might be the most bizarre production I’ve ever seen. More bizarre than the history of human conflict acted out purely by Barbie dolls and Muppets. Stranger than two men, shackled together, simulating gay rape and stabbing each other with knitting needles. Weirder than being buried in toilet paper at the climax of a performance. That’s not to say, however, that I didn’t find it – albeit oddly – brilliant.

For those of you painfully lacking in knowledge of video-opera, Three Tales takes a look at three events: the Hindenburg disaster, nuclear bomb testing in Bikini Atoll, and the cloning of Dolly the sheep. It does this through opera, live orchestral music, archive footage and recorded interviews. I know – it’s a lot to deal with at 11pm, and watching Richard Dawkins chat about genetics sounds about as sure a way to cure the week five blues as arsenic. But, if you remember that this week alone there are three productions nestling in the relative safety of Shakespeare, you’ll start to see why it’s good.

I adored the Hindenburg segment – the projection of the burning wreckage coupled with persistently eerie music was the most atmosphere I think can be physically packed into the ADC. The undeniably talented musicians and singers did a great job of complementing the footage and thankfully, for opera virgins like me, the lyrics were projected too. The only moment where the haunting air was somewhat broken was a figure popping up to let us know that the Hindenburg was like ‘a giant silver cigar in the sky’. I wasn’t the only one who tittered.

‘Bikini’ and ‘Dolly’ didn’t maintain the sky-high standards of the first segment though. The set became more excessive, crowding the stage, much like how the increasing use of special effects overwhelmed the projections. The production was almost slicker than an oil spill, save for that in ‘Dolly’, the recorded sound fell out of time with the video. Dawkins’ contributions on genetic engineering became lost as the poor lip-synching put me in mind of Britney Spears. Also, after the fluidity of the previous acts, we had over-edited interviews with contributors jumping around the screen, saying ‘machine-chine-chine-chine’ like they were having a fit. I can’t help thinking that just sticking with the fantastic live sound would’ve been better.

That said, this was, overall, a phenomenally professional production and a welcome alternative to the comedy-drama-continuum in Cambridge. I like Three Tales in the same way that I like Lady Gaga: I’m so bowled over by how boldly it experiments that I almost stop caring about the content. Maybe I’m just a sucker for bizarre theatre, but if it’s a choice between yet more iambic pentameter or watching a robot-human hybrid talk to me whilst listening to operatic warnings about technology, then the cyborg wins every time.