The Intelligence Park (Music Theatre Wales) review


Music Theatre Wales at Birmingham Repertory Theatre ***

"It's just rubbish – utter rubbish" declared a gentleman sitting near me at the end of Act One of Gerald Barry's 1990 opera The Intelligence Park. I'm sure he didn't mean it. The setting is Dublin, 1753, and the composer Paradies (Michel de Souza) is struggling to write an opera while his reluctant fiancée Jerusha (Rhian Lois) has eloped with his primo uomo, Serafino (Patrick Terry). Serafino is a castrato: we know, because we've seen him getting the snip, live on stage. And we know the rest because Act One ends with Jerusha and Serafino getting comprehensively jiggy with it in anatomically-correct nude bodystockings, while Barry's score ascends new heights of squealing, jerking hilarity.

All great fun, and director Nigel Lowery's cheerful designs are probably the most uncomplicatedly enjoyable aspect of the show: a dayglo proscenium arch, with periwigged marshmallow-men wheeled on and off to represent the people of Dublin. But good luck with Vincent Deane's libretto - a riotous assembly of super-saturated Joycean wordplay that should never have been let anywhere near an opera. The plot is lost very early on, and never really rediscovered.

Of course, that might have been its appeal for Barry: a composer whose deadpan, counter-intuitive sense of musical humour infuriates all the right people. It's a hyperactive, multicoloured score that just never stops fidgeting except in wheezy chorales for piccolo and tuned percussion, or to let a double bass spread a layer of sludge under the primary-coloured nonsense on stage. It goes without saying that the London Sinfonietta under conductor Tim Anderson went at it heroically.

The cast were uniformly splendid too. De Souza, and Stephen Richardson as his prospective father-in-law, both managed to convey some genuine pathos while vaulting relentlessly between gruff shouts and nasal falsetto. Lois and Terry were endlessly game; and Adrian Dwyer offered a masterclass in vocal understatement as the insinuating D'Esperaudieu. But ultimately, they stood no real chance of getting past their garish makeup and Barry's still more garish music to emerge as anything more than cartoons acting out - well, certainly not "rubbish". But I don't think Barry would take umbrage – or even object – if I called The Intelligence Park an extremely sophisticated waste of time.

Richard Bratby

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