Home » London Theatre Reviews » NeoArctic by Hotel Pro Forma and Latvian Radio Choir | Review

NeoArctic by Hotel Pro Forma and Latvian Radio Choir | Review

NeoArctic by Hotel Pro Forma and Latvian Radio Choir
NeoArctic by Hotel Pro Forma and Latvian Radio Choir

The Queen Elizabeth Hall has always been one of my favourite music venues. Ove the years I’ve seen everyone from Australian conceptual/cabaret artist Meow Meow to Georgie Fame and the BBC Big Band, from Ronnie Spector (of The Ronettes) to Van Dyke Parks and beyond. The seats were always comfortable, with just 900 of them you were never too far from the stage and the acoustics were excellent. However, I haven’t been there for over two years whilst the hall, the Purcell Room and the Haywood Gallery were given major makeovers costing over £35million. So, I was delighted to able to review the first major concert to be held at the refurbished hall – a brand-new piece called NeoArtic from Hotel Pro Forma and the Latvian Radio Choir.

As you enter the new, sparkling auditorium, the stage is covered in a dirty white material with curtains of the same colour at the back. As the lights go down, the twelve members of the choir enter dressed in what can only be described as futuristic Hazchem protection clothing designed by Bjork! They all wear goggles, a mixture of coats and cloaks, some colourful, some not so and large rubber protective gloves. It seems the Artic environment they’re in is highly toxic – the shape of things to come?

What follows is a song cycle that highlights the current dreadful state of our planet’s environment. The songs are arranged in three groups: Grain, Vapor (sic) and Ray and amongst the twelve songs (or should they be called arias for the singers are very operatic), there are songs for plastic, minerals, mud, respiration, turbulence and temperature to name just six. Behind the singers are some quite ordinary videos projected onto the curtains that
move and sway when the videos call for it such as during a sequence showing hurricanes and high winds There are surtitles on a screen above the stage which help the audience follow the lyrics which are often random in nature. The singers move about slowly and trance-like during and between songs, sometimes carrying props such as large brooms, rakes and what look like deer antlers.

NeoArtic is a very serious piece and has a lot to say about our environment and how we’re filling it with plastic and chemicals and slowly destroying it as the atmosphere succumbs to global warming. The programme states that “NeoArtic has come into being via a long period of research and developmental work in a cooperation between artists, and other experts”. That makes for a well-researched thesis or lecture but unfortunately, a bit of a turgid evening musically.

The music itself has echoes of some of the compositions used in “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, in particular, pieces by Francis Travis and Clytus Gottwald. There are also songs that have the feel of Brian Eno’s ambient albums and they’re all mixed in with some modern trance and electronica. It’s been said that Leonard Cohen wrote songs to slash your wrists to, but in comparison to the doom and gloom of NeoArtic, his lyrics are like a nice warm bath in the sunshine. There are a few moments where it sounds like we’re at a rave in a warehouse somewhere, but these are few and far between and the music rarely gets above walking pace.

However, the singers are all superb and the sound of their voices either together or solo are magnificent. The rise and soar above the music and fill the hall with amazing harmonies and powerful trios and quartets – oh to hear them doing something with a bit more joy to it.

As for the refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall, I can happily report that the new leather seats are very comfortable (they even have a shelf underneath to stow your bags etc.) and the acoustics are even better than ever. I look forward to seeing something a bit more joyful in future.

3 Star Review

Review by Alan Fitter

A collaboration between internationally acclaimed Danish company Hotel Pro Forma and the Latvian Radio Choir, NeoArctic examines the Anthropocene, a new geological age defined by human interference and disturbance of the Earth’s ecosystem.

An artistic collaboration between researchers, scientists, composers, musicians, writers, artists, designers and filmmakers, the award-winning opera explores humanity as a ‘force of nature’ and the changes made to the planet.

With electronic soundscapes performed against a backdrop of abstract, digital landscapes, NeoArctic transports audiences into an atmospheric, abstract world.

The running time is approximately 80 minutes. For ages 12+


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