Produced by k2 Theater & supported by the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London, Hungary
Voila! Europe Festival, London | November 9-22, 2020
Nick Awde | THE X REPORT
A butler greets a string of upper-class guests – if he notices they’re in orange hazmat suits he doesn’t show it since even the retainers have a stiff upper lip here, it would appear. The guests greet each other, hang up their suits, quaff champers in between gulps from breathing tubes before taking their seats at an imposing banqueting table that lines one side of the stage.
It’s a setting that evokes those moody films about the fading of the old order – think The Shooting Party or The Exterminating Angel. And indeed it is the end of the world as the globe burns and floods, a pandemic spreads and our air is literally running out. But the party must go on for this privileged group – and, so long as there’s air for their lungs, the singing can’t stop. Never has survival seemed so odd.
In this devised piece (‘physical dialogue-free chamber oratorio’ mostly covers it) by Hungary’s k2, the cast ripple in and out of singing Mozart’s Dies Irae/Day of Wrath (taken from his Requiem) as they struggle to keep their composure in the face of ominous thuds on the walls and the voices of the panicked populace that threaten, zombie invasion-like, to burst their bubble.
In place of spoken dialogue, there’s the punctuation of where speech should be: the rustle of hazmat suits, clink of glasses, harrumphs, sighs and, constantly, the discreet coughs as they keep their oxygen masks as close to them as the Krug. A solo pianist is prompted when they join voice in song, often from the table which, laden with silverware, serves up unexpected props and tableaux.
The spine is an unplugged reworking of Dies Irae’s Latin text, packed with powerful yet supremely melancholic lines yet presented like a nihilistic Magic Flute. With lines like ‘Nothing will remain unavenged’, there’s palpable tension and dread that for the guests there may be no redemption today, the day of judgment, but they’ll hedge their bets and keep singing.
Backed by András Szép on sparse yet filling piano, Dániel Borsányi, Zsuzsa Gyöngy, Dániel Király, Zoltán Nagyhegyesi and Emőke Piti make a fine ensemble, their stillness resonates with their voices and movement. Precise yet loose, they speak through the slight of gestures and glances of characters whose loathing of each other is overcome by their loyalty to the tribe. It’s handy their voices aren’t OTT opera but a more human timbre that makes Mozart’s music all the more accessible.
In these voices and movement, Jakab Tarnóczi’s direction finds a unifying choreography in a stripped-down staging that yet allows each character to keep distinct throughout. The blocking speaks as much as the script, while the set pieces set up images that linger afterwards.
Overall, this is one of those rare productions that works identically onscreen or in-venue, a testament to Ilka Giliga’s design. In this pre-recorded stage version, directed by Péter Hajmási, there’s a wash of thoughtful camera angles, moody close-ups and perspectives achieved by lighting, while the sound comes via focused capture – every murmur, grunt or creak is significant and none of it is lost. Soundwise, however, the piano is patchy and needs to be reined into the recording spectrum.
Farewell Concert will be a little too static for some, and similarly there are those who will find sung Latin obscure rather than evocative, but if you go with the flow there’s definitely reward in the journey. What it is lacking is an extra level not so much in narrative but in energy. It’s not for want of a live vibe, but the stepping stones from opening to finale that aren’t all there. In script terms it builds but musically it doesn’t. Sure things don’t need to have a thunderous climax, but…
And what does it all mean? The company say their brief is to explore social issues. As a global commentary it could be climate change, European identity taking a tumble or the oligarchs who seem to rule us all. In terms of Hungary today, I’m sure you can read between the lines. Whatever, Farewell Concert is undeniably a feast for thought.