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Osnat Schmool's Drive, Ride, Walk

Bridewell Theatre Company

at Tête à Tête Opera Festival

(Riverside Studios, London, August 2007)

This ambitious festival, devoted to new thinking about opera and music theatre for new audiences of the 2000 generation, is running until 26 August, on Thursdays to Sundays, with two triple bills each week.

Musical Pointers went to Hammersmith to sample the fare on 12 August, attracted by a new music theatre piece about urban working life, a successor to last year’s unforgotten Push!

Osnat Schmool’s musical take on the rigours of today’s commuters and city workers was an outright unanimous winner of of the Bridewell Theatre Musical Theatre Development Project competition. [This programme was funded by Arts Council England and ran in collaboration with Mercury Musicals and Nitro.]

Drive, Ride, Walk is totally original in conception and presentation, with the audience invited to relinquish our seats and stand in rows behind or in front of the stage in crowded proximity from which some ten of our neighbours emerged as protagonists in the show; we became involved almost as part of the action.  

Schmool was responsible for both the libretto and its musical setting. Mostly for nine singers unaccompanied, there are also to be heard brief scenes with accordion, cello and body percussion (as featured by Rzewski in his The Road) The version we saw at the Riverside is about half of a full length “opera”, yet to be given in full. 

See here for a summary of the plot and of the production and a little about its composer. ( http://www.tete-a-tete.org.uk/DriveRideWalk.html )

The atmosphere at Riverside Studios is pleasantly informal, and I had opportunities to talk with many of the key figures in the enterprise.

Osnat Schmool showed me her score and explained that she is not one of those young contemporary composers being turned out by the music departments of the universities, but has her roots in theatre as an actress and in a cappella singing. The latter was evident in the intricacy of the writing for voices in nine parts, sung by self absorbed young people going about their fraught days in a crowded city centre, with tedium and frustration the order of the day and regular resort to mobile phones to make contact with the world outside, and where tensions run high with occasional eruptions into aggression.

A central image is of a man who falls over but nobody notices or comes to his help; that seems to be transmuted into a scene of a certain ‘spirituality’ to bring the work towards its conclusion. There were occasional problems in getting the overlapping words completely, but the drift was always made clear in theatrical terms.

The presentation of cameo characters was assured and the level of singing impressively high. We were so completely caught up in the scene that tiredness whilst standing close by the melée didn’t figure.  A distant relative of this move to take music into new situations and attract different audiences might be the hugely successful The Full Monteverdi devised for I Fagiolini

It is intended Drive, Ride, Walk will be toured, including to unusual locations. Many people have commented on how suitable they think the piece would be for performance in non-theatre spaces like galleries and public buildings and explorations on those lines are in hand. Their notion is that “if people don’t come to opera we will take opera to the people!” explained Artistic Producer Carole Metcalfe, (fondly remembered from her period running the Bridewell Theatre) and continuing with the Bridewell Theatre Company. The version we saw at the Riverside Studios is about half of a full length 90 minute “opera”, for which  financial support is being sought.

Bill Bankes-Jones, Artistic Director of Tête à Tête, explained that the festival is organised around Main Courses (such as Drive, Ride, Walk) with Starters and Afters, separated by opportunities to take meals in the notably excellent bar-restaurant; making the whole experience something akin to an alternative Glyndebourne for a different type of operaa-goer.

On our evening, the Starter was the presentation at earliest stage of an murder opera sketch about Elizabeth & Dudley, a half hour germ of a work by librettist Iain Pears and composer Phil Cashian; awaiting only a commission…

For this trial hors d’oeuvre acted scenes were punctuated by excerpts from Cashian’s Caprichos, given by Tête à Tête’s excellent associated ensemble Chroma, who returned for our Afters with a selection of Piazzolla tangos, which, instead of bandoneon, featured clarinet and guitar.

The latter, serendipitously, gave me a first opportunity to meet and hear live the brilliant Abigail James, whose new CD I had happened to have reviewed only last month!

I plan to get to more of this year’s Tête à Tête Opera Festival and hope some of Musical Pointers’ readers will be there !

Peter Grahame Woolf