Sunday 8 May 2011

Terry Gilliam's 'Damnation of Faust' at the ENO: a review

Being the biggest 'Brazil' fan in the world (does anyone challenge that?), I had to be at the opening night of Terry Gilliam's 'Damnation of Faust' at the ENO (the London Coliseum).

On the way to my seat, I bumped into Elton John's percussionist, Ray Cooper, who has appeared in several of Terry's films, including 'Brazil'. He squashes the beetle at the beginning of the movie which sets up the whole Tuttle/Buttle thing. The last time I saw him, it was 20 years ago when he joined Terry and myself for lunch at the Italian Graffiti Restaurant in Wardour street and it was he who took the photo of Terry and me (one of the photos in my Monty Python album on Facebook). Despite all the years that have passed since then, he remembered me instantly! Neither of us could quite believe it had actually been 20 years!

I also bumped into the actor Terence Bayler who delivers the classic "Blessed are the cheesemakers" line in 'Life of Brian', as Gregory: "Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products." I happen to have a photo of him and I in the same Facebook album, taken at the world premiere of Julian Doyle's 'Chemical Wedding'. It was great to see him again.

I was hoping that some of the other Pythons and colleagues would have been there on Terry's night of glory; maybe they are going to see it on another night. There are not many performances to choose from however - there will only be 10 in total.

What did I think of Gilliam's (Berlioz's) 'Damnation of Faust'? Well it was the first opera I had ever been to, so I'm not really qualified to pass judgement. "I don't know much about art but I know what I like." It would be fair to say that I'm more of a Spamalot kind of a guy (it has more laughs per minute than this production!) and that I've now kind of decided that opera isn't really my thing. But that doesn't mean to say that I didn't appreciate I was witnessing another Gilliam masterpiece happening before me. Everything about the performance was polished, professional, precise, moving and reeked class.

Judging from the raptuous applause that the audience gave the cast, especially when Terry graced the stage - I certainly wasn't the only one to think so. The opera singer Daniela Bechly, widow of Steven Pimlott, (the internationally acclaimed theatre and opera director), happened to be sitting a few seats away from me. She told me that what she just experienced was out of this world. She was quite overcome with the magnificance of it all. She was utterly amazed at the way Terry had interpreted the piece and the way he subtly and cleverly drew upon many different artists and influences to create an outstanding and wonderful whole. It seemed to me that she was knocked for six by it and would be talking about it and enthusing about it for a long time to come. A similar reaction that I experienced when I first saw 'Brazil' - a life-changing moment for me.

She also told me she knows nothing about Monty Python or about any of Terry's earlier works. I've got an idea that, now, she might decide to check out some of the original Flying Circus episodes and watch some of his movies. I guess many people still think that Python is just a load of craziness and men dressed as ladies speaking in screeching voices. True, there was a lot of that! At one point in this production, Mephistopheles even appears in a dress! But when they get an insight into what's really going on in the heads of the Pythons - their abilities, their intellect, their creativity - such as after a performance of Gilliam's 'Damnation of Faust', they may suddenly see that "crazy British comedy troup" in a whole new light.

Backstage entrance, just before curtain up

Front of house, just before curtain up

Magnificent stage

The orchestra pit

Stage right

Stage left

With Ray Cooper after the show
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1 comment:

TheRealGilliamFan said...

Congrats on seeing the opening night performance!!!!