27th November 2018

Review: The Manchester Collective’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’

Urussa Malik reviews The Manchester Collective’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’
Review: The Manchester Collective’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’
Photo: @Adam Szabo

‘Pierrot Lunaire’ was made up of a violinist, celloist, a pianist, and a…double bed in the middle of the stage ! This bed was the epicentre of Pierrot’s character, the character was seen sitting up in ecstasy or suddenly wrapped in a myriad of blankets . ‘Atonality’ is the buzzword of the performance, describing music where the chords are not symmetrical, this leaves the listener with a sense of incompletion and eerieness. To me, it sounded like the music was fighting each other.

The first piece of the performance was called ‘Moon Drunk’, made up of 21 poems, it was hard to tell when each began and ended. The sole character was a sad, lonely clown, portrayed by Lotte Betts-Dean, who employs the singing technique with the name Sprechstimme — translated to speak-voice.  Betts-Dean plays multiple characters by way of disassociative identity disorder — an anaemic laundry-maid and the sad clown, to name a few. This was interesting, if a little confusing.

The explanation of the double bed at the pre-show lecture was that because the (translated) poetry and music are so challenging to follow, the double bed imbued a sense of normality into the set, thus showing that these states of identity could happen to anybody. The mini-lecture was informative to those of us who were seeing the piece for the first time. Atonality was explained at length and by practise, via the helpful orchestra as well as the background of the original composer Arnold Schoenberg.

An enchanting moment in the show, was when Pierrot was following the flautist, who had left her seat and seemed to serenade Pierrot around the bed, with Pierrot following and gazing in awe. The singing itself was melancholic and erratic in rhythm, as though someone was sing-shouting and sing-whispering all in the same line, becoming barely audible at points. The entire performance was simultaneously inviting the audience closer and pushing us away.

The performance felt quite long, perhaps an effect of atonal musical pieces, but also quite heavy. Emotion flourishes through the music as well as Betts-Dean’s superb performance, bringing the character of Pierrot Lunaire to life. It is a challenging piece of theatre but still good and I look forward to attending future productions of the play, as this is the kind of theatre which is most enjoyed when you already have some knowledge about the reason for its existence.This is an assured performance of a particularly challenging piece of theatre.

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