It’s been said that sometimes it’s better to journey than arrive and that was the case when I went to see God Save The Tea. It all augured well as we were met in the lobby of the new, very shiny Camden Council offices in St Pancras Square where a number of enthusiastic people in blue t-shirts from Tête Á Téte, the company putting on the local opera festival, made sure we were comfortable and then took us through the somewhat tongue in cheek health and safety speech in English and French as we were there as “delegates” to a political summit so there were rules to be followed. We were then escorted to the lift and up to the 11th floor where we were shown into a conference room and asked to sit at various tables each of which had a flag of a European nation on it. We chose Italy (the Italian flag also had a pizza on it to make it obvious where we were from) and after a bit of banter in cod Italian with the “politician” who was leading the “summit” the performance began and unfortunately it was all very much downhill after that.
The main performer was the Politician who spoke and sang most of the text. When we arrived, she was being fanned with a tiny fern by one of her “staff” whilst she addressed us and told us we had to fill in the questionnaire on our tables although the pencils we were supplied with were soon taken away by the staff! There were cups and saucers on the tables and the two staff members then poured a small amount of tea into them although we weren’t told to drink it which was probably a good thing looking at it! The Politician who mainly spoke the text, occasionally broke into cod-operatic singing backed by a flautist and cellist but the actual singing was minimal. The music itself was very contemporary and avant-garde – you couldn’t confuse it with Puccini or Verdi! There was also a woman at the back sitting at a desk typing into a computer which I presume was operating the video which was shown on a large TV. The video itself added very little as it was obscured by an on-screen drawing of a teacup although I did spot film of Mrs Thatcher, Teresa May and Boris Johnson.
If this all sounds a bit strange, well it was and as I looked around the room, there seemed to be a look of bemusement on most of the audience’s faces as the forty-five-minute piece unfolded.
The big problem with the piece is that if you’re going to write and perform a political satire about “Western imperialism, exploitation and colonialism” as well as “banning immigration and… exploitation of poorer countries” (quoted from the programme), then you have to be sharp, concise and satirical and this piece just wasn’t any of those. We live in a world that seems immune to satire and parody at the moment – just how do you satirise the real politicians in this current climate? So, if you’re brave enough to try, you have to get it spot-on and unfortunately Cut Moose who conceived the piece, haven’t. Also, if you’re going to market your production as “immersive” then you have to immerse the audience in it and God Save The Tea didn’t do anything of the sort.
Tête Á Tête bill themselves as “the future of opera” and in the other productions I’ve seen over the years as part of their festivals, they are just that, moving opera into the 21st century and broadening its appeal. However, I don’t think God Save The Tea is part of that future; performance art it might be – opera it isn’t.
Review by Alan Fitter
We could call this performance a political satire in the form of an opera but – oh dear – how would that distinguish us from Downing Street?
It is your moral obligation to attend this summit to encourage the cohesiveness of our society.
Drawing from our interventions at the Barbican Centre and the Mais Imaginarius Festival, we will discuss policies meant to improve western altruistic imperialism, on topics such as outsourcing, free trade and cultural exchange. Attendance is strictly regulated to protect free speech. Your presence may be recorded for training and quality purposes.
There will be tea. Lovely!
God Save The Tea
Company/Producer: Cut Moose
Music: Lucas Jordan
Monday 5th August
The show takes place at a secret location.