FringeReview Scotland 2020
We begin with a very busy stage. The musicians are with us alongside the soloists and our narrator. A beautiful musical opening which has a text unlike many I have ever heard is sung introducing our topic, for the evening; heart surgery. From there we are treated to a lecture from the narrator which takes us through the loss of Jay, the issues around consent, the methodology – technically and morally – of his heart being taken for another and the transplanting of his heart to Stella. Betwixt and between the haunting score speaks for both and allows the narrator to technically keep us straight with the medical terms, procedures and the process. It ends with a count up of time now given to the recipient and their lives ahead.
Ironically at the core of this, there is little drama. The irony is that by removing the hyperbolic element of a need for a transplant and the loss of someone who will be the donor, we get the majesty of it all as the focus. Narrator, Alison O’Donnell has the difficult part of trying to perform and explain with a text that is by its own need, a lecture on very difficult phenomena.
The textual structure of the piece provides all of us with a challenge. It has a poetry within but a job to also do, as it describes the processes in which the medical teams are engaged. It does seem to fight itself with each of these tasks though the poetry is mostly dominant.
There is little doubt, however, that the score by Valgeir Sigurdsson is a major star here. It entrances and haunts in equal measure whilst the voices of Ruby Philogene and Jodie Landau ably match the textures in the music. I was especially loving the flow and beauty of Landau’s voice with such subtle cadences all over it.
Of course, from the page, or onstage tablet, the score needs a musician or several to make it come alive. Scottish Ensemble were equally majestic. Hardly an unobtrusive presence they arranged then rearranged themselves around the stage with barely a noticeable flutter though at times I did feel for those having to move more than a fiddle.
Mirroring the technicality of an operation, the sterile nature of a performance to save a life and the calculations inherent in heart operations, we got a lecture dressed with finery. I wanted some more. I wanted to feel that most of the narrator’s technical flow came from a knowledge rather than notes, I wanted to feel the safety of someone telling me more than reflecting what might have been on their iPad. It was a personal reflection that I felt Alison O’Donnell was under used.
Technically too, whilst I was able to take the constantly moving musicians, the tables with their lights were, to me, underutilised. When one was moved offstage completely, that it remained with lights on distracted me somewhat. I wondered why.
But then there was the video above. It was highly skillfully done and with great care. If AV designer, Lewis den Hertog has not cemented the case for the use of creatives with AV expertise elsewhere, then there are few out there who could. It was beautifully done and made the whole experience that much better.
Having seen a few Untitled Projects performances this was certainly the one with which I felt most affinity. Aside from having a child with a heart condition, the whole process for someone of my age, who remembers the first transplant, the possibilities it brought alongside the ethical dilemma was pitched just the right side of memory versus nostalgia. I left beguiled as to what for Untitled comes next and very much hopeful that I can come and see it. For Scottish Ensemble and Sigurdsson, haste ye back too.