With Ten Plagues, the Belfast Ensemble are producing some firecracker theatre at the moment. Their visit to Cardiff with The Moot Virginity of Catherine of Aragon was a huge success.
Here lies a visceral hour of music theatre. The meshing of the Black Death and the AIDs epidemic might feel a bit clichéd, though here it forms a vibrant retelling of events in a meta form of duo timelines. Mark Ravenhill has written cut throat words, that pierce through the music with furious riots. The music of Conor Mitchell, is a marvel of dissonance and ironic structures. There are nods to Schubert and Bach on the piano and the cabaret music of Britten and Weill. This fusion of words and music are a jolting vision of plague time London.
Matthew Cavan is singer for the night, bringing a mighty theatrical presence. His flaming snipes, his emotional outpourings of lust and grief are crammed into Ten Plagues as he tries to come to terms with the fact he survived the plague, whilst friends did not. There are many familiar themes between both these times, the fear of infection and the means of staying healthy still linger even today (the worry of Anthrax, bird flu and Ebola were fleeting media spins, were they not?). The gritty video work of Gavin Pedan use the back drop of video tape static, footage from My Own Private Idaho and concerned public service announcements from the era, all to startling effect.
This is not for the faint of heart and an extra level on concentration is required in order to focus fully on the piece. My only quibbles with Ten Plagues are there where no programmes and that Ravenhill’s libretto was not available to buy in book form, so we could take the remarkable words home with us.
Intensely watchable, compelling listening.
James Ellis is supported by Wales Critics Fund
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