Tuesday 15 August 2017

Sasquatch: the Opera – Summerhall, Edinburgh


I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that (Faith No More keyboardist) Roddy Bottum’s Sasquatch: The Opera is *the* Must-See event at this year’s Fringe. It’s probably the strangest thing here – and yet most comfortingly familiar – by a country mile; it’s got a massive cast, by Fringe standards (six named characters, six musicians, and a further six-strong chorus – I’m sure the heavy metal 6/6/6 configuration is purely coincidental); it’s hugely ambitious; it’s remarkably executed; and it still manages to feel admirably “Fringe-y” – with Ahmed Ibrahim’s staging (not to mention Joshua Rose’s lighting) very definitely not aiming for “polish” (although I dare say, given a less improvised space than Summerhall’s black-curtained Old Hall, it could look a lot more space-age if it wanted to). But the main thing about it is its strangeness.

At a Fringe where much else seems to be tending ever more toward a polite, consensus-driven agreement about “what constitutes good theatre/performance/whatever” (not such a bad thing, in the abstract), it is exciting to see something that appears to neither know nor care. It’s like finding a completely unironic greasy spoon in a street full of tasteful concrete and wood coffee shops. (Again, nothing wrong with tasteful coffee shops, per se. I *like* nice coffee. But it’s pretty exciting to find a show offering the equivalent of sugary Nescafé instant in a polystyrene cup for 30p.)

Musically, it seems to exist in an unexpected intersection between Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and ‘Pretty Hate Machine’. Similarly, the story – which definitely feels like it’s whizzed through to make it fit an hour-long slot, and could easily accommodate more complexity – feels like a cross between the heightened emotions of (say) Romeo and Juliet, and the less-heightened emotions of (say) South Park. There are both some very funny and/or absurd jokes, and also an emotional arc – at least for the Sasquatch himself – that is genuinely rather heartbreaking.

Visually, perhaps due in large part to a lot of footlights, I kept thinking of those photos you occasionally see of the sorts of things they used to put on at Tristan Tzara’s Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich. This feels of-a-piece with that sort of WWI-era surrealism (and now, plausibly coming from a similar sort of psychological place – total horror in the face of the state of the world, and maybe a loss of any faith in rational responses to it: at the end, the group hold a minute’s silence in memorial of Heather Heyer and in protest at the ongoing collapse of the US.)

In terms of deeper meanings actually contained within the show, well, I wasn’t hugely aware of any (not *all* the libretto is entirely 100% audible/comprehensible, let us generously say). I mean, it offers some broad-brushstroke stuff about oppression/slavery/servitude/exploitation being bad (Sasquatch’s nemesis seems to be a sort of travelling showman who keeps his daughter on an actual leash, and makes his son dress up as a parodic Sasquatch in a kind of freakshow?). Also bad is loneliness (Sasquatch is lonely). Love, on the other hand, is nice (if liable to end tragically). But then, that’s pretty much operas, right? It still makes a tonne more sense than The Magic Flute...

So, yes. Despite being (apparently) impossible to write up convincingly – at least as a strong thesis goes – this is one hell of an experience, and quite unlike anything else I’ve seen at the Fringe for years.


Unknown said...

ANDREW- such sweet words, that was a particularly emotional one. I'm happy we got to share it with you. thanks for getting it, x, RB

Andrew Haydon said...

Aw! Thank *you* for saying so. :-)