Un­known, Re­mem­bered

★★☆☆☆ Spi­tal­fields mu­sic fes­ti­val, Lon­don, un­til Sun­day

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - Tim Ashley

Given its world pre­miere by Spi­tal­fields mu­sic fes­ti­val, Un­known, Re­mem­bered is a big, site-spe­cific mul­ti­me­dia piece about trauma and loss. Part mu­sic theatre, part in­stal­la­tion, it oc­cu­pies two rooms in Stu­dio 9294, east Lon­don’s new arts cen­tre in Hack­ney Wick. In the first, so­prano Kather­ine Man­ley per­forms Han­del’s can­tata La Lu­crezia, rail­ing in de­spair against the man who raped her, be­fore con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide. Af­ter we move, part­way through, to room two, ac­tor Richard Strange gives us The Last Tape, artist Ha­roon Mirza’s reimag­in­ing of Beck­ett, which fol­lows the dra­maturgy of Krapp’s Last Tape, but re­places the orig­i­nal text with words by Joy Divi­sion singer Ian Cur­tis, who took his own life in 1980.

The rooms are linked by Mirza’s im­ages of turnta­bles, ra­dios and strobes flick­er­ing on TVs and screens, and by an elec­tronic score – some- times bru­tal, some­times beau­ti­ful – by com­poser Shiva Fe­shareki. As the evening pro­gresses, the two worlds in­ter­pen­e­trate. Strange is heard in­ter­rupt­ing Han­del’s can­tata. Man­ley sub­se­quently ar­rives in room two to stand be­fore him in silent ac­cu­sa­tion as he spools his tapes. Is he her at­tacker? We’re never told, but later she gazes down on him as he sleeps and sings Fe­shareki’s set­tings of Cur­tis’s lyrics for Joy Divi­sion’s al­bum Un­known Plea­sures.

The end re­sult is baf­fling, elu­sive and cu­ri­ously dis­en­gaged for a work that tack­les such pow­er­ful sub­ject mat­ter. There’s a neb­u­lous qual­ity to Fe­shareki’s score, which never re­ally draws can­tata and in­stal­la­tion to­gether, while Marco Štor­man’s prom­e­nade stag­ing lacks fo­cus. The move from one room to an­other im­pedes what dra­matic mo­men­tum there is, and I was left won­der­ing whether a straight­for­ward the­atri­cal pre­sen­ta­tion would have served the piece bet­ter.

The per­for­mances, how­ever, are strong. Man­ley sings with fierce in­ten­sity, and there are su­perb in­stru­men­tal con­tri­bu­tions from Liam Byrne (vi­ola da gamba) and Mar­i­anna Hen­riks­son (pi­ano). But this is an evening in which the in­di­vid­ual el­e­ments never co­here into a sat­is­fac­tory whole, and as such is some­thing of a dis­ap­point­ment.

Fierce in­ten­sity … Kather­ine Man­ley and Mar­i­anna Hen­riks­son

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