Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Flatpack, an opera in IKEA

No, I'm not kidding. This is Ikea just off the North Circular, which for four dates this month has played host to a remarkable, semi-site-specific lyric-dramatic event. Have a look here.

Flatpack - something of a misnomer, as the audience didn't really have to assemble anything - played out a handful of dramatic scenarios on the showroom floor. Keyboards had been set up at a few designated points, between which the audience were shepherded by a pied piper violinist and a pair of dancers. The dramas could be loosely characterised as modern, sketch-sized bites of Abigail's Party-cisms: one couple falling out over different furnishing tastes, the other with very different ideas on how to host a dinner party.

Tom Lane's music is unsettled, angular but deceptively recognisable, using repetition of itself and the economical libretto, usually just the names of the furnishings. It's eminently singable though and the women's voices are particularly adept at making something of it in a building with all manner of peculiar acoustic annexes and background noise. The musical director, Oliver-John Ruthven, directs from the keyboard(s) and even gets in on the action, along with the director Rebecca Lea (who wisely employed herself organising the audience at the gathering points).

Of course, Flatpack isn't an entirely opportunist moniker as there is a scene in which construction of shelves (Billy) is the running gag. But then everything is meant to be fairly fluid. The performance I attended benefitted from clearly absorbed children and the willingness of everyone to straddle the invisible boundaries between the staging and reception. And afterwards I had time to buy a fish slice.

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