Originally written for The Public Reviews
The dizzying scope of Dmitry Krymov’s Opus No 7 sinks in slowly, rather than being readily apparent, as the space is stacked with visual metaphors and a rich tapestry of social, religious and artistic struggle is played out across the Barbican’s main theatre stage.
Forming two distinct acts, and taking its cue from the life of composer Dmitri Shostakovich – who fell in and out of favour with the Communist Party throughout the course of his life – Opus is a thrilling visual cacophony, exploring 20th century Russia. With echoes of traditional Jewish culture – themes which fascinated Shostakovich himself – Krymov’s design roots take powerful hold in the first act as a deluge of paint and paper welcomes the audience to a monochrome world of war, persecution and uncertainty, where people disappear with arbitrary facets of their lives and personalities remembered in their wake. A simple cardboard backdrop is manipulated with care and astonishing imagination; each trick more memorable than the last and the entirety suffused with an impish humour, adding just the right degree of levity to such weighty material. Krymov doesn’t shy away from following strong Holocaust imagery with physical comedy.
Erasure is a strong theme in Opus, with Shostakovich’s joyous, colourful musical birth in a rickety piano closely followed by his public denunciation and perceived utilisation as a Party puppet forming the second act. Though tonally different, and almost entirely devoid of dialogue, the biographical elements and Anna Sinyakina’s perfectly pitched physicality as the demure and politically buffeted Shostakovitch mingle perfectly with a more ribald, angry humour to form an intriguingly candid and forthright statement about the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory’s own country. Strongly satirical of the ideology of a Russian motherland, and of the Party, Opus is all the more interesting as the creation of a theatre maker who was working under Communism until its fall.
Going out with a deafening piano crescendo unlike any other, Opus’ incredible sensory overload ends on a muted and beautiful musical note as the soul piercing vocal talent of Maria Smolnikova lulls the audience with a soothing and heartbreaking song of grief – part Russian folk song, part Jewish lament.
Almost impossible to quantify; Opus No 7 is an incredibly skilled amalgamation of powerful visual elements and deeply arresting themes. It is hard to imagine a piece of such scope and aesthetic richness being produced in the UK, and one can only hope that LIFT continue to bring work like this to our stages. Buy, borrow or beg your way into the audience before June 14th; it’s utterly unmissable and barely describable.