First of all, I would like to say that this was one of the least entertaining things I have ever seen, and the fact that it was based on one of my favourite Lynch films made it all the worse. However, I would like to give a fairly objective account of various aspects of the production which may be of interest, reserving my opinions for the end.
The show was 90 minutes long, with no interval.SET
The stage was long and thin, like a catwalk projecting out into the audience. At one end of the stage, a red car was parked. This was able to travel along the length of the stage for some of the driving scenes. Above the stage, a large Perspex cube was suspended. Many of the indoor scenes took place inside this cube. There were steps inside the cube, which could be let down to allow people to come down from the cube on to the stage, or brought up inside the cube to allow people to climb down from above the stage into the cube. Four screens were suspended around the auditorium, and videos were sometimes projected on to the screens. There was no other scenery, although a chair and a motorbike were also brought on for certain scenes.VIDEOS ON THE SCREENS
The videos projected on to the four screens (always the same on all four) fall into roughly five categories:
1. Establishing the scene (i.e. for the garage scenes, a still of a garage was shown);
2. Shots to show what people were thinking about or remembering;
3. Projections of the videos that Fred and Renee were watching, or that the Mystery Man was filming live;
4. More "˜abstract' images, like fire, line down the middle of a road, etc. A lot of these were similar to images in the film, but had been re-shot;
5. The black-and-white photos showing Alice and Renee together;
6. Some actual scenes, e.g. the phone call where Alice says she cannot meet Pete.COSTUMES
The costumes in this production were a reasonable recreation of the costumes in the film, albeit on a budget. The major differences were that Fred wears an orange prison costume in the prison scene; the Mystery Man always has a black jacket on; Renee's hair is only chin-length; and the people at the party scene at Andy's are wearing more stylised costumes in black, silver, and zebra pattern.MUSIC
To describe this work as an "˜opera' is misleading. There is very little singing in it. Most of the dialogue is spoken. There is a live orchestra and some pre-recorded music playing for most of the duration of the show, but it is usually just providing atonal background music. A lot of it involved long-drawn-out droning and high-pitched whines. Some pre-recorded samples were also played ' some of these were snippets of familiar music, some classical, some modern. (I can't really identify them, as I was concentrating more on the dialogue.) The only use that was made of the original LH soundtrack, as far as I could tell, was in the form of a few extracts from "˜This Magic Moment' by Lou Reed.
The singing never came in the form of songs or solos, but instead characters tended to sing an occasional line here and there. There was also some intoning of lines in time to the music. Mr Eddy did a lot of what I can only describe as "˜vocal experimentation', a combination of shouting, screaming, singing, stammering, basically using the whole range of the human voice. The other characters sang normally, but the Mystery Man sometimes sang falsetto.LIBRETTO
The libretto follows the original film script quite closely. Here are the major changes:
1. Some of the lines have been omitted and many have been shortened, probably just to save time. To give some concrete examples, in the film, one of the detectives asks Fred "˜What do you mean by that?' whereas in the opera he just asks "˜What?'
2. Some lines have been added in, to make them more descriptive of the action that is taking place. For example, when the guard discovers Pete in Fred's cell, he shouts "˜Who are you? What are you doing in this cell?' Most of these lines are taken from parts of the original screenplay that were not included in the final version of the film.
3. Mr Eddy's lines ' probably the majority of them ' have been rewritten to accommodate the vocal experimentation. The idea with his character is that he hurts people with words, rather than physical violence. So when he screams at the top of his voice, his victims writhe in agony. His monologue in the tailgating scene has been rewritten, so that he is telling someone off for smoking in a place where smoking is not allowed.
4. A voiceover has been written for the scene where Alice recalls being brought to meet Mr Eddy for the first time. ACTING
It is obvious that the style of acting used in the theatre has to be a lot less subtle than in film. Everything was more stylised and exaggerated, but this was taken to extremes that I would not have expected, given the subtlety of the original film, and a lot of lines were delivered in an overly portentous way, which in some cases, in my opinion, changed their original meaning. To give a concrete example ' when Alice is outlining her plan to rob Andy, and she says "˜You crack him in the head, OK?' this line was delivered in a loud and threatening fashion. However, in the film, the sinister thing about this line is the quiet and casual way in which she says it, as if it is no big deal to her.NOTABLE THINGS
This is not an exhaustive list of scenes, but just some notes about things that differed from the film and about how certain scenes were handled.
1. The cube is used as Fred and Renee's apartment. The Mystery Man walks on to the stage and leaves the tapes on the stairs. He follows Fred and Renee around, taping them with a video camera, and his filming is projected on to the screens. When Fred goes "˜to the club', he goes down the stairs and strikes a stylised pose with a trumpet, while images of Renee with another man are shown on the screens.
2. In the film, Renee makes the call to the police, but in the opera, it is Fred.
3. At the party, the Mystery Man intones some of his lines. This is the first hint of "˜singing'.
4. The conversation between Fred and Renee when they drive home from Andy's ' this is just delivered standing on the stage, and most of the lines are sung.
5. Fred turning into Pete ' images on the screens show the gradual transformation, while the cube, which is now the prison cell, is filled with smoke. When the smoke clears, Pete is revealed.
6. The scene where the prison officials find out who Pete is ' this is delivered as a voiceover.
7. The scenes of Pete at home are shortened a lot and most of the lines are sung. There is no Sheila.
8. Pete has flashbacks to Renee's murder, as demonstrated by images on the screens.
9. All of Mr Eddy's speeches are delivered in an odd style, and, as discussed, have been rewritten. The tailgating scene is replaced by a "˜no smoking' scene; there is no physical violence, but the man being shouted at behaves as if he is being beaten up. This is much longer than the original scene in the film. Pete sings his lines in this scene.
10. When Alice recalls being brought in to see Mr Eddy for the first time, she acts out the scene with just an empty chair where Mr Eddy would have been sitting. A voiceover gives a shot-by-shot description of what we see in the film at this point (newly written, not just taken from the stage directions in the film script).
11. The red car is used in the scene where Pete and Alice drive out to the desert. Pete and Alice are on top of the car, when Fred appears and strikes the same pose as Pete. Gradually he moves towards Alice, while Pete climbs off the car and walks away. When Fred escapes from the Mystery Man by driving away in this car, the Mystery Man climbs on to the hood. Again, his video is projected on to the screens. Some of his lines are intoned and some are sung falsetto.
12. In the scene where Mr Eddy is killed, there is quite a long fight scene with Fred and he dies on top of the car, while it rolls slowly across the whole length of the stage. During this time, he produces a lot of experimental vocal noise.
13. The final scene takes place inside the cube, which again is filled with smoke. Sometimes Pete is visible inside the cube, and sometimes Fred. At the end, everything, including the whole auditorium, is very brightly lit, while the two actors inside the cube freeze in position.MY OPINION
The music does not really add anything to the production, especially when the film had such an excellent soundtrack in the first place. In particular, the high-pitched electronic whining wore thin. I know Lynch often uses droning noises in his soundtracks, but these were not atmospheric in the same way. To me, it was just incessant noise. I know that a lot of it was meant to represent psychological turmoil and pain, but because it was so unrelenting, it lost a lot of its impact in this regard. In an interview, the composer Olga Neuwirth explains that, because the film does not have a linear story, the music is also non-linear ' it does not "˜progress' and does not have a clear beginning, middle and end. This is fair enough, but the end result is something that is neither memorable nor enjoyable to listen to.
I was unimpressed with the way that the script was adapted. I understand that they needed to make it shorter, and perhaps more descriptive (for the benefit of anyone who had not seen the film). But it seems like a lot of the original lines were cut or shortened to make way for new and somewhat self-indulgent material. Several scenes were far too long, like the new "˜tailgating' scene, Mr Eddy's death, and the final scene in the cube. Nearly all of the humorous lines were cut, and even where they were retained, they were delivered in a serious fashion. That seems like a pity.
Some of the changes seemed unnecessary or even ill-advised. To give one example '
in the film, it says a lot about their relationship that Renee, not Fred, makes the phone call to the police. I don't know why this was changed.
Neuwirth explains that for her, singing is more expressive than talking, and that is why Fred and Renee talk in the first scenes ' to show the breakdown of communication in their relationship. But for the rest of the show, the variation between singing and talking seems to be fairly random. The system of having characters sing some lines here and there did not work at all. When someone is speaking, and then suddenly sings a line, it is rather jarring. Some of the sung lines sounded great when spoken in the film, but when sung, they sounded ridiculously banal. For example, the scene in the desert, when Pete says "˜I want you' and Alice says "˜You'll never have me' ' sung in a modern operatic style, it was impossible to take it seriously. To give another example, when Pete is released from prison, he starts singing "˜My head hurts' and his parents sing "˜Where were you that night?' and he sings "˜I don't remember'. These were the moments when I most wanted to laugh. I am sure I don't need to tell you that the Mystery Man seems a bit less sinister when he starts singing falsetto
Most upsetting of all was what they had done with Mr Eddy's character. I think the idea was probably inspired by the loud and hoarse voice in which Mr Eddy shouts "˜Pete! Where's Pete?' in his first appearance in the film. The great thing about Mr Eddy in the film is that although he is wildly over-the-top, he is still a believable and sinister villain, whereas this show turned him into almost a pantomime character. Maybe it was deliberate, but I can't imagine any fan of the film being impressed.
The acting in general was not good. I would imagine that, as members of the English National Opera, the performers were primarily singers, rather than actors, but I would have expected the director to have toned things down a bit. Almost every line was delivered in a threatening way, as if it was the most important line of the whole production. I wonder if the director had ever considered the pacing, because, despite the shortening of the lines, most scenes dragged.
The only excellent aspect of this production was the clever set design. The cube filled with smoke allowed the transformation scenes to be executed well, and the video screens solved the problems of presenting other scenes that could have been difficult to show on stage. The moving car was also an impressive effect.
There is a mini-site about the show here, including interviews with the composer, director, and David Moss, who played Mr Eddy:http://www.eno.org/youngvic/lh_about.html
I would hate to think that anyone would watch this without seeing the film, because they would come away with a really bad impression of Lost Highway, which remains one of the best films ever made.