It is fitting that Scenes From The End reminded me of three things, given that it is in three parts (yes, that will be one more part than Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but rest assured, this is a one-act production). Firstly, it was the American Protestant preacher Billy Graham who once said in an interview – if I recall correctly, it was on ‘Larry King Live’ – that he was looking forward to dying, and thus entering into what his religious convictions tell him is eternal paradise, but not the process of dying in old age.
Secondly, tying into the portrayal of human death in this operatic piece of theatre, I remember an acquaintance describing the very first time he went to the opera. The salient point is that his initial thought was that the singers were in pain, and here, it is plausible to interpret some of the singing in a late scene as cries of anguish.
Thirdly, the comedian Stewart Lee, some years ago, analysed the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’. If it were to be assumed that, in the words of the last line of the first verse, “The Lord God made them all”, and further assuming the common definition of ‘all’, what exactly is the point of any of the subsequent verses? Here, the show’s exploration of death begins with what it terms ‘The End of the Universe’, and therefore, strictly speaking, in a similar vein, all forms of death explored thereafter that occur within the universe has already been covered within that first ‘end’.
This is, of course, over simplistic and too reductionist an evaluation of this production, which sees Héloïse Werner display extraordinary uses of the human voice with great versatility. Hearing an operatic voice at full throttle can be a little uncomfortable from such close proximity in a smaller venue such as the Camden People’s Theatre. But certainly no words are wasted, and the performance does not feel rushed – quite surprising given the three parts and an ‘blues interlude’, halfway through Part Two, giving the audience a much needed opportunity to come up for air in a largely deep and intense production – all in under an hour.
I hesitated to call it Beckettian, but this was not made easy thanks to the bleak and dismal atmosphere created through a sparse but not entirely minimalist set, and pithy phrases like, “We knew this day would come”. And I was not sure what to make of it, a show about death that left me feeling neither despondent nor hopeful, but simply thoughtful. So, it’s Beckettian. There’s a tender subtlety to this show, and an absorbing final act, where a human being at their personal ‘end’ expresses a hatred of being pitied and talked down to, much like the central character in Florian Zeller’s play The Father.
If this show’s plot comes across as ambiguous, you are not alone – a ‘performer’s note’ in the show’s programme has Werner admit, “I still can’t make sense of most of it”. Whatever your level of interest in opera, this is a good opportunity to experience what the human voice is capable of, both at the loudest and longest big note and the smallest and barely audible whisper, and every level in between. A well-acted, quirky and charming production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Scenes from the End is a new one-woman opera about grief and a tour de force showcase for soprano Héloïse Werner. Using a colourful array of vocal and theatrical means, composer Jonathan Woolgar and director Emily Burns paint historic, comic and tragic pictures of the end, from the heat death of the universe to the end of an individual life.
Presented by Heloise Werner
heloisewerner.com | @Heloise_Werner