Spectra Ensemble’s reinvention of ‘Collision’ is masterful

All images from Spectra Ensemble

Juliet Wallace as high commissioner of order… Credit: Katie D Edwards.

Spectra Ensemble’s ‘Collision’ is a concoction of jazz-age aesthetic, absurdist science fiction and offbeat, sultry cabaret.

Rooted in the work of the experimental German artist Kurt Schwitters, from whom remained only the opera libretto in its entirety, composer Lewis Coenen-Rowe wrote completely original music for the Ensemble’s production. Constructing the soundscape by adding elements familiar to Schwitters from the 20s German milieu, Coenen-Rowe ‘sought to replicate something of Schwitters’ artistic ethos’, which Schwitters himself described as ‘the combination for artistic purposes of all available materials’. Emerging out of this Dadaist tradition comes an interesting relationship in the way visual art combines with the production’s collage-music in dynamic ways, allowing for new meanings to emerge between them.

The plot is simple but exceptionally well coordinated under the direction of Cecilia Stinton. It seizes on an apocalypse narrative to explore inter-war anxieties as well its indulgences. A mysterious Green Globe is ‘presumably’ set to strike Berlin Hauptbahnhof, decimating humanity in its wake. The show focuses its attention on various groups of people to explore multiple reactions of the impending doom. The chorus is formed from a group of citizens who rally together in a show of unity against certain death, the police force, led by Juliet Wallace in a stand-out performance, demonstrate an increasingly pathetic law and order and Barnaby Beer plays an astronomer who first identifies the threat.

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Photo credit: Katie D Edwards.

The cabaret-opera also has its nods to early cinema and subtly explores the proliferation of new media and its rising place in the world. In one scene, Henry George Page plays a radio announcer who declares that the radio will be there for maximum coverage, and the manner in which journalists clamber to investigate and record the oncoming Green Globe provides ample room for satiric interpretation.

Spectra Ensemble’s reinvention of this lost avant-garde production is exhilarating, and its undercurrent of Lynchian comedy, dynamic staging and brilliant lighting makes it an absolute thrill to watch.

You can catch a stripped-down, cabaret reworking of ‘Collision’ for the Grimeborn Festival at Arcola Theatre in August 2017.

Special Thanks to Cecilia Stinton.