Denis & Katya, Music Theatre Wales

February 28, 2020 by

Towards the end of this 70 minutes performance when asked why she thought the story of teenagers Denis and Katya had attracted so much attention a journalist who had reported on the tragedy likened the story to Romeo and Juliet. She added that they were also two good-looking youngsters.

She could have perhaps added it was in a remote part of Russia with its association with secrecy and police state conspiracy theories.

For the uninitiated this was a tale for today, two disaffected, bored, teenagers, with access to alcohol and a variety of guns (although the latter is disputed in the conspiracy theory world), who holed up in a cabin on a residential street in Stugi Krasnye, a depressed village in Russia, and started firing off shots out of the window, shooting the television, and filming each other and broadcasting on the internet with a steadily growing number of viewers. After a three days standoff the police moved in and the pair dies, quite how is still not clear, did they kill themselves or were they shot by the police?

The fascinating work is less the two teenagers re-enacting the episode but rather those around them telling the story from their perspective, their teacher, a friend, a neighbour, a medic, the journalist and, most interestingly, the creators of the work. This included whether they should include actual video footage or even whether to do it all.

A co-production between Music Theatre Wales, Opera Philadelphia and Opera Orchestra National Montpelier, the one-act opera from Philip Venables and Ted Huffman was highly praised when it opened in the United States last September. Now with Johnny Herford and Emily Edmonds this excellent work has premiered at The Riverfront, Newport and will tour to Theatr Clwyd, Mold; Aberystwyth Arts Centre’ Southbank Centre, London and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff.

The two singers take on the various roles, with music provided by four cellists, Tim Gill, Adrian Bradbury, Zoe Martlew and Joely Koos, on a simple stark stage with just a raised area along the side and back and a black backdrop on which text exchanges are projected. This is all in keeping with a work that has the digital sharing of the fatal relationship to online audiences.




There is a mixture of narratives styles. In short scenes (some just a few seconds) one singer is accompanied by the other speaking what the other is singing (even in English), other times one explains what the other is signing in Russian, such as the nervous fidgeting, hunched over friend or near hysterical neighbour. There are also some recorded voices, particularly effective at the end as they discuss what should be included in the story telling.

While Venables’ music accompanies the singers, it is not broken into songs etc, but is rather through-composed more creating atmosphere and becoming part of the drama.

In compete contrast to the fidgety, near-hyper friend (splendidly portrayed by Herford), the rows of young people sat in complete silence. There was not even a snigger when some of the text messages being shown in the backdrop were about sex or tits. I genuinely cannot remember such complete concentration on a performance.

This is engaging and enjoyable, thought-provoking music theatre. However, I do wonder whether it would have had the same appeal is it had been two kids with Brummie accents on a council estate in the West Midlands.


Now touring until March 27.

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