Review: Dust Song

Sophie Williams 12 March 2013

Dust Song

Wed 6th – Sat 9th, ADC Theatre, 11pm

“How is it?” asks Sam. “Terrible,” replies Abigail. The characters were talking about whisky but they may as well have been talking about the play.

As we left the ADC auditorium, neither my companion nor I knew precisely what we had been watching for the last forty or so minutes. Admittedly neither of us knows much about opera but I’m not even sure that Dust Song was opera. Whatever it was, it was trying to be avant-garde about domestic abuse but ended up jam-packed with every ‘rubbish father’ cliche under the sun. Emotional distance, violence, drinking, divorce are all frequent occurrences in real-life but when compounded with prosaic dialogue they only served to make the plot stale.

Not even the singing could resuscitate the tiredness of the plot. At least, I think the plot was tired. It was hard to tell what was going on near the end once everyone put on their operatic voice. Words (and therefore the thread of the story) got lost among singing. Quite good singing, admittedly, but my untuned ears could not pick out enough words to make sense of what was going on and I was not alone. I heard the people sat behind me speculating what they thought went on at the end.

The production does not feature songs as such, instead singing takes the place of dialogue, resulting in lines such as “Nooo-oooo-ooo, he didn’t” being sung and left to hang in the air for an almost humorously long time. Billie Robson as the mother, Jane, put in an impressive vocal performance but was generally inexpressive both in song and in speech. Camilla Seale’s acting as Abigail, although a bit stagey (which was possibly the point – I couldn’t tell), was mostly good but, when she sang, the excessive amount of high notes in her part were not conducive to audience understanding.

Aside from this, there were issues with staging and in particular Nils Greenhow seemed to have a few moments where he didn’t know where he or any of the other performers should go. Luckily he was a very good singer, which made up for his staging sins. Joachim Cassel didn’t have very much to say (or sing) but his thousand-yard stare into the audience and physical tableau meant he had, at least, stage presence. However, his attempts at violence were a bit lifeless, much like the show itself.

The very premise of Dust Song was misguided. It set up a narrative using easily understandable speech but made it almost impossible to follow by the descent into singing, leaving me frustrated and confused.

Sophie Williams