ROH OperaShots – The Tell-Tale Heart (Stewart Copeland) & The Doctor’s Tale (Anne Dudley) [World premiere productions]

The Tell-Tale Heart
Music & libretto by Stewart Copeland after the short story by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar – Richard Suart
Alan / Cop – Philip Sheffield
Neighbour 1 – Eileen Hulse
Neighbour 2 – Fiona Kimm
Shadow Edgar / Cop – Richard Strivens

Jonathan Moore – Director

The Doctor’s Tale
Music by Anne Dudley to a libretto by Terry Jones

Dr Scout – Darren Abrahams
Mrs Rogers / Angel 3 – Harriet Williams
Miss Purley / Mollie / Angel 1 / Newscaster – Sadhbh Dennedy
Janet / Angel 2 – Carolyn Dobbin
Mr Taplow / Rover / Chairman / Angel 5 – Peter Willcock
Lady Paget / Dr Scout’s Mum – Susan Gorton
Colonel Bandstand / Commissionaire / Keeper / Angel 6 – Jonathan Gunthorpe
Vet / Angel 4 – Michael Bracegirdle

Terry Jones – Director
Sarah Dowling – Movement Director

For OperaShots:
Soutra Gilmour – Designs
Charles Balfour – Lighting
Finn Ross – Video designs

Musicians from CHROMA
Robert Ziegler [Copeland]
Tim Murray


Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 8 April, 2011
Venue: Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

I don’t think anyone would describe either of ROH2/Linbury Theatre’s double-bill of “OperaShots” as particularly innovative or challenging – indeed, both are blessed with feisty accessibility. The respective composers, Stewart Copeland and Anne Dudley, both have a firm footing in film music – Copeland, founder and ex-drummer of The Police and, now approaching 60, seemingly not a victim of Rock-world excesses, has a prodigious amount of Rock and Classical work under his belt; and Dudley has supplied memorable soundtracks for “The Full Monty” and “Black Book”.

Richard Suart as Edgar (The Tell-Tale Heart). Photograph: Catherine Ashmore“The Tell-Tale Heart”, a half-hour version of Edgar Allan Poe’s horror story, in which the hero (here called Edgar) carefully plans to murder a rich old man (Alan), does the deed, then goes mad with the guilt that propels him into revealing his terrible crime. Copeland clearly relishes the lip-smacking melodrama that is a major element in Poe’s output, and has honoured the tone of the narrative at the same time as sending it up in a way that Vincent Price would have appreciated – a rich mix of Hammer and Rocky, grotesque Grand Guignol and, for those lucky enough to have caught it, the gleeful extravagances of “Shockheaded Peter”. Copeland’s pulsing score for strings, piano and percussion did the job in terms of mood and mounting hysteria, and is tightly written apart from the slightly superfluous roles for two neighbours (except that they injected female voices into an otherwise-male cast). Richard Suart, presented as a near relation of Max Wall, did not disappoint as he went deliriously over-the-top as narrator and protagonist; and Richard Strivens as the ‘other’ Edgar was very effective. Robert Ziegler gave the music an infectious forward momentum, there was some excellently observed movement and lots of spooky shadow-play, and the video graphics created finely obsessive images of the old man’s staring eye that tips Edgar over the edge – creepily atmospheric and rather made the show. It was a pleasure to see, but whether one will have the chance to do so again – that is the question. Anyway, it’s another notch on the already well-notched staff of Copeland achievement.

Darren Abrahams as Dr Scout (The Doctor's Tale). Photograph: Catherine AshmoreAnne Dudley’s “The Doctor’s Tale” is bigger in every respect – at an hour twice as long, with a larger cast and an ensemble including wind instruments and a harp. The doctor in question is a dog, Scout, whose treatment for all ills is mutual affection twenty-seven times a day and which earns him besotted patients. The humans’ tireless anthropomorphism and projection of themselves onto animals, dogs in particular, is skilfully done, layered and witty. The opening trio of patients praising their physician set the level for Dudley’s eclectic and quick-paced score, and the short scenes detailing Scout’s canine fall from grace, his being put down and, in the manner of Powell & Pressburger’s “A Matter of Life and Death”, being sent back from Heaven came thick and fast, with bracing variety. For fans of television’s “Family Guy”, like Brian the family dog, Dr Scout exerts a similar control and says those things mere mortals wish they could say – and, of course, he delivers the ultimate in unconditional love. Darren Abrahams was on fantastic form as Scout, getting the dog/human balance just right, and the other seven singers provided canines, patients, dogs’-home authoritarians and, particularly memorable, angels. Soutra Gilmour’s designs, both here and in the Copeland, are deft and to the point; what I heard of Terry ‘Monty Python’ Jones’s libretto (no surtitles) was sharp and funny, and Tim Murray and the CHROMA musicians helped the singers and music fizz with energy.

  • Further performances at 7.45 p.m. until Saturday 16 April [no performances on 10, 11 & 14]
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera

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