As the show begins we are introduced to Dido, performed by Amy Jansen and her two extremely comic attendants, Tasmyn Matchett and Barbara Patterson. They are reminiscent of the two ugly sisters from Cinderella, as they playfully interact with the audience. As the show continues, we sink into an operatic scene that we are all familiar with; as Dido confesses her love for Aeneas and is encouraged by her confidants. It is only when the attendants, followed individually by the musicians, comically carrying their instruments, exit the stage that we realise this show is going to mess with our expectations, and in doing so ignite our curiosity.
The tone throughout the show is one of facetious seriousness. We are constantly reminded of the past, through the ancient story, traditional opera, and accompanying orchestra. However, at the same time we are listening to Kiwi accents, playful adlibbing and a promenade performance that brings up the question of what can be defined as a stage. We are led throughout BATS by a Sorceress, performed by Alex Taylor (who is also the Musical Director of the piece), as each act exists in a new and exciting space.
The costumes are brilliant. They, like the tone, are reminiscent of the past with modern twists. The wigs worn by Dido and her attendants are a great example of this, resembling something Marie Antoinette would have worn, but on closer examination are made of contemporary woolen bandages and plastic flowers. The Converse shoes paired with historical undergarments are another twist on our expectations, much like the show itself.
The performers are all undoubtedly and unquestionably talented. They each display strong characters, confidence in their voices, and a physicality that is engaging and hilarious. Each performer is committed to their actions and confident in their role, and they work together to create a strong ensemble. Their performances, assisted by the constant changing scene, keeps my full attention throughout.
The final song performed by Jansen is breathtaking. The emotions and the reality of this crazed and debauched world all come to an emotional climax in this moment, and Dido’s pain is portrayed with an unwavering clarity. We remember that despite the fun and silliness we have encountered, in essence this is a love story, containing deeply aware characters and themes. We are transfixed as she expresses the pain of her decided fate.
The only scene that could perhaps benefit from some re-working is during Act 2: The Witches Cove. As with the rest of the show, the performance and style is strong and engaging. However, there are sexual references which not only treat the female as an objectified vessel, but there is also a hint at it being non-consensual as she looks unimpressed and unhappy. This scene is intended to be humourous, but since witches are typically sexually powerful females it is a shame that the paradigm has not been twisted, like so many of our other expectations during the show.
Dido Aeneas: Recomposed is an accessible, modern opera that excites and engages the audience. It is an old story, with themes that remain relevant, and modern tones to entertain us wholly. The performance is original and thoroughly enjoyable.
Dido and Aeneas: Recomposed runs until the 13th April, to book tickets click here.