“I saw everything.
But I didn’t really see a thing”
It is little surprise that the synopsis for Simon Stephens’ new play mentions it takes place in a fractured world, that is pretty much a given for his writing. What proved more surprising for me was how much I connected to Carmen Disruption, this idiosyncratic reinterpretation of Bizet’s opera resonating strongly throughout Lizzie Clachan’s brilliantly distressed design which conspires to lend the Almeida an unmistakeable air of faded grandeur. Just with the barely breathing body of a vanquished bull in the middle of the stage, natch.
This particular fractured world is a nameless European city in which Stephens interlaces five monologues, roughly analogous to the characters we know from Bizet but as if refracted through the shattered lens of an old pair of opera glasses. So Jack Farthing’s Carmen becomes a dangerously sexy rent boy, John Light takes Escamillo from the bull ring to the bear pit as an arrogant trader, this Don José fights through traffic rather than armies in Noma Dumezweni’s achingly moving cabbie, and Micaela’s tragedy remains intact in Katie West’s emotionally raw student.
The fifth character is Stephens’ own, The Singer, a mezzo-soprano who tours the world’s opera houses playing the role of Carmen but has lost all sense of her self in the constant churn of new hotel rooms, fleeting rehearsals and then the next job. Their stories are all separate as they recount their varying tales of the isolation of contemporary urban life, simultaneously alleviated and exacerbated by the constant presence of social media, but they also cleave increasingly closer as they all swirl around a terrible climactic event but even that experience leaves them spinning off alone afterwards.
The intensity of Michael Longhurst’s production is quite simply sensational – the temporal and spatial fluidity of the design choices from Clachan and from Jack Knowles’ lighting have their own special poetry, echoed by Simon Slater’s live music that interpolates modern influences such as Daft Punk and Kraftwerk into Bizet’s score so there’s as much Homework as Habanera. And Imogen Knight’s elegant and eloquent movement direction creates a definitive physicality that mirrors the complexity of this interconnected isolation.
Another connective thread comes from the presence of singer Viktoria Vizin, the spirit of Carmen herself, who stalks the ruined landscapes – both physical and mental – and gives voice to the operatic inner turmoil of our quintet. The cumulative effect is a stunning combination and unexpectedly affecting – If this is disruption, then please give me more.