Clutching an armful of bad reviews from its Aldeburgh premiere, An Ocean of Rain slips into the Almeida’s Summer schedule for a three performance run. There were hopes that Yannis Kyriakides’ “sort-of-opera” would come to life in the more intimate environment of the North London venue. If that’s the case, though, its first incarnation must have been a sorry affair indeed.
Daniel Danis’ libretto is a strength, a basically dramatic scenario of women from different cultures meeting in an exotic location and working out their personal conundrums against a background of imminent natural disaster. Kyoto, New York and Cairo are Westerners who arrive in Haiti on their annual working-holiday in Sister Delhi’s orphanage. Kiev, a local prostitute married to an abusive husband, seeks refuge following the death of a client. They are all eventually swept up in a tsunami.
The script tries to be clever by ultimately revealing that the women have been dead all along but this hardly registers and adds nothing of dramatic value. By and large the words are audible (aided by amplification) but the slow, slow pace soon lulls you into state of complete disinterest and it limps and flops through its 65 minutes.
The biggest problem is with the underscored score, which hums and whimpers soporifically and never takes the subject matter by the throat. Some of the vocal writing, mostly very high, is attractive and reminiscent of Kyriakides’ teacher Louis Andriessen. Unfortunately, it’s a one-way glance towards the Dutch composer’s brilliance and there are only glimpses and no sustained periods of aural excitement.
The staging is adequate, given the obvious low budget, with a floor of corrugated waves and undulating revolving screens, but the multimedia approach video projections and recorded sound mingling with live instruments is starting to look over-used and tired. It needs to be a lot more effective than this, if it’s to make an impact amongst a myriad of similar offerings.
The cast Anna Dennis, Camille Hesketh, Claire Prempeh, Katalin Krolyi and Hyacinth Nicholls bring an earnestness to their characters but it all feels a bit uncommitted, arm waving and simpering taking the place of any real physical inhabiting of the roles. They are not helped by the static nature of the writing.
In its present state, An Ocean of Rain is like an amoeboid jelly, formless and leaking in all directions. All the elements have potential a point worth stressing – and if the creative team could harness what they’ve got and drive it into some sort of shape and add much-needed dynamism, it could grow into something respectable.