Review: Mozart Undone, Barbican Centre
Published in The Telegraph, 26.02.2014
Were there earth-tremors in Vienna last night? If so, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart must have been turning in his grave. Nine hundred-odd miles away, his life’s work was taking a mauling – not poorly played, but cudgelled into a host of other genres: lounge jazz, country and western, even – heaven forfend – quick-shuffle calypso. Forget Mozart Undone. This was Mozart Done In.
What is a theatre concert anyway? Glad you asked. It’s a kind of hybrid format (I hesitate to say “artform”) from Denmark that fuses opera, performance art, pop concert and mash-up. The structure is set-list rather than storyline, but it swaps the spontaneity of a gig for the rehearsed, choreographed quality of theatre. Its aesthetic is heightened and theatrical, but borrows tropes from arena tours: swooshing coloured lights and bandmates rocking out, that sort of thing.
Director Nikolaj Cederholm started with the Beach Boys 20 years ago, before bastardising the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Beethoven in turn. He treats back catalogues as texts to be visually interpreted, chopped up and chewed over – and the end result is a very strange watch indeed: kitschier than a Jeff Koons, and strangely, almost lovably, delinquent.
Mozart Undone starts in a disused film studio setting: scissor-arm lamps and dustsheets. The ceiling springs a leak and the six actor-singers bustle to catch the downpour in cups, buckets and even bathtubs. Suited up, they look like middle-management having a jam session. Soon they’ve fashioned rococo periwigs out of their shirts and, later, encased their heads in plaster of paris casts to look like Viennese zombies (Mozart Undead, perhaps?). Anja Vang Kragh’s costumes look absolutely incredible, as does some of Cederholm’s stagecraft.
If only it were put to better use than arch cultural irreverence. Here The Magic Flute’s Papageno-Papagena duet becomes a cutesy, Björk-lite xylophonic number called Punk Flamingo; Molto Allegro, a cod-Bowie anthem (complete with mockney ack-cent) titled The Atheist, while parts of Don Giovanni come out like Peter Andre. In other words, Mozart isn’t the only one being appropriated. Everything’s slightly ersatz. And the lyrics – oh, yeah, there are lyrics – are so banal, they make One Direction seem like TS Eliot. “Cherry, cherry wine / Sunny Valentine.” That’s set to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.
It’s all weirdly self-aware, but never quite knowing. It’s deliberately kitsch, even wilfully sacrilegious, but it revels in that without a hint of shame. You’re not entirely sure whether you’re laughing at, with or both. Quite bizarre: kind of amazing, kind of awful. Mostly awful.