If I were paid to review, I'd leave it at those seven words above. But as I lashed out over 80 quid for four tickets (no free ones for this reviewer), I'll say a bit more and not go to bed in a mood.
The background is that Goran Bregovic wrote a fine sound track to the film La Reine Margot, over twenty years ago. Using this film score as a backdrop he constructed a musical and dramatic narrative to draw historical comparisons between the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572 in France, and the Balkan inter-religious slaughters of the 1990s.
Unfortunately, the fusion of music and drama failed to blend. The drama was largely a single-person narrative, by a fine Irish actress, Lisa Dwan. This had occasional, subdued musical accompaniment, or was interspersed with longer musical intervals. The soliloquy (which may have been written by Bregovic - I can't find the house notes, written by Garth Cartwright) was at times eloquent, but more often far too long. It lasted almost an hour, and Lisa Dwan had to endure the increasing irritation of an audience who had clearly come along for a good old knees-up and dance along to "Kalashnikov" (which we never got). She got the biggest cheers when she changed on-stage into the little blue dress (which had a narrative significance, but came across as gratuitous), and then when she finished and departed.
The experience of the Balkan breakup meant a lot to our Croatian friends whom we'd gone with. They'd crossed the religious lines with their marriage and were forced to flee their homeland, still unsafe to return after twenty years. They pointed out that Goran Bregovic, whose music they like so much, never actually endured any of the war, having got out near the start.
Bregovic had some superb musicans with him: a Balkan brass band, male and female choirs, a small string section. He, as ever, sat centre-stage with guitar and white suit.
After the opera (?) finished, the band did come back and played a few Bregovic stompers for an encore (including an unexpected version of "Bella Ciao", the Italian communist partisan song). Had they not come back, audience anger might well have overflowed. I knew they would, however. Since when has a guitarist in a white suit not done an encore?
Overall, quite a disappointment. I'm not sufficiently au fait with theatre to suggest how it might have been staged differently. Perhaps a better use of song and music to illustrate the themes, rather than as mere accompaniment, might have helped. Certainly, the soliloquy could have been much shorter. If people come to hear music, they may not be expecting to see theatre. Disappointment plus boredom can be an unpredictable combination. It's certainly not good manners, and extremely oafish, to cat-call and whistle when the actress resumes after a musical number, but hardly surprising nevertheless. And I bet they'd paid even more for their tickets than we had.
Nice review, Norm! I didn't go - even though I might have been able to blag a ticket - as I just felt the concept sounded flawed. Also, Bregovic is an opportunist in both using a war he did not experience - he and Emir Kusturica both stayed in Paris - and recycling material from a French film about the 17th C and claiming it has relevance to the terrible 19902 events in the Balkans. I recall seeing the Queen Margot film - starring Isabelle Adjani - and thinking it pretty good when it was released. I can't recall what Bregovic's soundtrack was like. But he regularly recycles material - having recorded the same songs with different singers across Europe (Greece, Poland etc).
Sorry you and friends didn't have a better time - I went to the see the Hot 8 Brass Band at the Jazz Cafe. And it was a lot of fun. Even then the band only played about 70 minutes and the crowd wanted more - odd how in these days when live music is the only way of most non pop-rock musicians of making money that the likes of Bregovic and Hot 8 don't try harder.
I think the parallells did come across, and the allegory was obvious, if a bit historically stretched. Presenting it all through a single monologue, with the female character reading from a 'discovered' diary of Margot, was all a bit forced. I presume an Irish actress was chosen as an allusion to the Northern Ireland conflicts. I wonder if the same Irish actress is used for performances in other European countries, where the accent would not be automatically recognised (as was likely the case with a large proportion of the audience at the Barbican).
Visari's painting is pretty graphic. I wonder if the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre still holds a special place in anti-Catholic folklore, as does, for example, the Battle of The Boyne in Northern Ireland.
Watching the Shakespeare play on BBC tv this weekend, I was struck by the frequent use of mood music to enhance the action. You may not even notice it until it's pointed out. Quite a bit of Bregovic's accompaniment to the monolgue fell into this category.
Norman, I recall from the notes I worked from that Bregovic employs a different actress for each performance. I think the Irish connection was probably a coincidence - I'm guessing the actress does her monologue in the language of each nation the performance is in. Did the Irish actress look at all like Isabelle Adjani? Perhaps that is the connection - pale, dark haired beauty being what he requests for the role.