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Tête à Tête Opera Festival: Rune | Review

The penultimate production of the 2021 Tête à Tête Opera Festival, based at London’s Cockpit Theatre and showcasing contemporary and avant-garde new works by young composers, is RUNE, written and composed by Alastair White. This 50-minute piece of music theatre was first seen in August in a live performance at the Round Chapel, Hackney, and can now be found in an interactive form online for the modest price of £1.

Tête à Tête Opera Festival: RuneWhite’s opera is a “vast cosmological fantasy…..set on a planet where history is forbidden, a young girl tells her story…..of….Khye-reil…..through transdimensional canals and sealanes to the RUNE”. The libretto is available free of charge on the Tete a Tete website and, as it is very complex and dense, I should strongly recommend all potential audience members to read it carefully first.

The style of the music is, to my ears, strongly reminiscent of Pierre Boulez and Humphrey Searle. It is mostly at the same sedate pace, with long vocal lines for the singers and complex pianistic figures accompanying them. It is a great shame that it is not more memorable, but I assume that it is not supposed to be.

The two singers, who do not move and sing from scores, stand at one end of the traverse stage. Their music is certainly not easy and both Patricia Auchterlonie and Sione Ibbett-Brown deserve much credit for finding ways around their complex roles.

The three pianists are Joseph Haviat, Simon Rhys and Ben Smith (also Music Director) whose technique must be admired as the composer asks a great deal of them.

The story is told through four athletic dancers: Ryan Appiah-Sarpong, Max Gershon, Shakeel Kimotho and Thomas Page who wear flowing costumes designed by Ka Wa Key.

The directors are Gemma A Williams and Jarno Leppanen, who ensure that the piece uses all the acting area and runs smoothly.

The Hackney audience of about 25 for the live performance were clearly appreciative of what they saw and heard, as was the small number of Zoom participants at the online showing which I attended.

Recommended to those who like something experimental, which is what Tête à Tête is all about.

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

Re-opening theatre doors with a grand fashion-opera spectacle, RUNE is a vast cosmological fantasy from the team behind the award-nominated ROBE (“excellent” – BBC Music) and WEAR (“spellbinding” – Boulezian) — featuring an ensemble of three grand pianos, contemporary dance with interactive sculpture, and high fashion by Ka Wa Key.

On a planet where history is forbidden, a young girl dares to tell her story. A voyage across galaxies and millennia, hers is a tale of the archipelagos of Khye-rell and their matterwork, through transdimensional canals and sealanes to the RUNE of the universe’s origin. This song, her story — through the very act of being told — will have consequences beyond imagining…

The interactive broadcast includes a Q&A with the creative team.

Supported by Arts Promotion Centre Finland, the Hope Scott Trust, the Marchus Trust, the Royal Musical Association, the RVW Trust and the Sarah Caple Scholarship.

Age range: All ages, but mostly adults.


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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