Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The Emperor of Atlantis, Bold Tendencies

This was my first visit to the Multi-Storey space in Peckham, a reclaimed car park opposite the station that - on a beautiful Indian summer night like this - draw hundreds to its roof-top bar.

Inside there are lots of different spaces for all manner of goings-on. I walked past two separate art installations to reach a sealed-off performance area for the first in a run of performances of Viktor Ullman's The Emperor of Atlantis, written in the concentration camp of TerezĂ­n in 1943. The company is Bold Tendencies.

That the work was composed in such dreadful circumstances is reflected in both the quiet hysteria of the piece, and the controlled but undeniably frenetic energy of the performances. The four (OK, five, conductor Tim Burke plays a keyboard glockenspiel as well) instrumentalists - a companion familiar with the composer tells me that it was a reduced orchestration - play on the periphery of the circular space onto which the cast charge, dance, posture and fight. The tentative division between sincerity and irony which one gets at the door as they welcome the audience into the space quickly dissolves in the absurdity of the situation. The perplexing political situation of the UK in September 2019 cannot sit outside this dismissal of a fourth wall. Consequently the conclusion is less sobering than uncomfortable. Highly effective.