Review – Last One Out

August 13, 2013 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✩✩  Involving but frustrating

Last One Out by Scottish Opera,  Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013,  Photography for Scottish Opera from: Colin Hattersley Photography - colinhattersley@btinternet.com - <a href=

Jennifer Neil in Last One Out. Photo © Colin Hattersley www.colinhattersley.com

Paterson’s Land (Venue 247)
Fri 9– Mon 26 Aug 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Scottish Opera’s Last One Out is described as ‘a haunting mix of opera and Country’.  Gareth Williams’ music and Johnny McKnight’s libretto combine to produce an elusive, impressive tale of how the past continues to influence the present. Live music and recorded sound are used to tell a story of how a tragedy can continue to influence a family across several generations.

Events conspired against this performance, making it a little difficult to judge fairly. A fire alarm in the venue meant that it started late, and several of the sell-out audience left in order to make their next appointments. The smoke effects, which were responsible for setting off the detectors, had to be turned down and were a little half-hearted as a result.

It was instructive to learn that this work was originally created as a site-specific work at Fraserburgh Lighthouse. It is very likely that the elements of the piece that were not wholly satisfactory here worked much better in that context.

The combination of the live and recorded sound is handled well; the whole piece is admirably directed by Amanda Gaughan, creating a real sense of creeping unease. All three vocal performers acquit themselves excellently; Matthew Stiff and Jennifer Neil, singing live, exhibit great emotional power, while Anita Vettesse’s recorded voice is eerily restrained.

The ‘classical’ part of Gareth Williams’ score would no doubt have added to the claustrophobic power in the original setting. Here, with the stage and audience clustered in one corner of a large room, the harmonically somewhat static music does not have the same power. Despite the best efforts of the excellent string trio, there does not always seem to be sufficient differentiation between the three parts; the emotional resonance the music seemed to be striving for was not always achieved. Unfortunately, when the music did manage to achieve real impact, this coincided with the rare moments when Johnny McKnight’s otherwise impressive libretto failed to reach the same heights.

The addition of a piano to the recorded ‘Country’ elements, conversely, added a complexity to the songs that perhaps worked against the music. Rather than possessing the determinedly folky authenticity of much Country, the backing at times sounded more like Kate Bush, or even at one point arch pop-cabaret act Slapp Happy. While this was intriguing, it clashed with the late-night radio Country show format that surrounded it. The contrast between the two styles of music, however, had an effective cumulative impact.

While the ambition of this opera may not be fully matched by its execution, it remains an absorbing piece with considerable poignancy. That the setting was less than ideal, and the performance was further hampered by circumstances outwith their control, diluted this poignancy to a certain degree but much of the impact remained.

Running time 55 mins
Run ends Mon 26 August 2013
Daily (not Mon 12 or 19) 5.15 pm
Venue 247, Paterson’s Land, 37 Holyrood Road, EH8 8AQ
Tickets from www.edfringe.com

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