Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre and Hotel Pro Forma
Reviewed 5 November 2018
War Sum Up is a 21st century electronic opera spectacular that musically brings to life the three stories of the archetypal war characters drawn from classic Noh dramas, a form of traditional Japanese theatre and one of the oldest in the world.
As the darkness fades a woman dressed in yellow begins her uniquely haunting song, filling the theatre with her powerful operatic vocals. She is the Game Master – the one who starts the war. The stage behind her lights up, illuminating the impressive two-storey set inhabited by bodies trapped in the cycle of war including three characters from traditional Japanese Noh Theatre; the Warrior, the Soldier and the Spy.
The audience starts to see and hear more from the actors behind the floor-length screen, as they sing the stories of these notable characters. Visually spectacular designs and pop-like manga images of faces, tanks and other war-related imaginings in bold colours sweep across the colossal set, colluding with an unusual mix of songs to create a mesmerising performance.
Definitions of words commonly used in relation to war begin to appear on the screen, including PTSD and its side-effects, as well as medications, and spy terms including sparrow and eyes only. As the operatic melodies continue, the multi-levelled performers begin to craft paper aeroplanes and launch them around the stage and at another point craft varying shapes out of what appears to be malleable bamboo.
Noh Theatre contrasts with the narrative of traditional Western drama in that the Noh performers are all storytellers who utilise their visual appearances and movements to suggest the essence of a tale rather than to enact it. It’s not necessarily about what happens in the show, but rather the culmination of visual and audio elements and their ability to create an impressive requiem of the experiences of war.
It’s easy to see why the show has been summed up in the three simple words ‘music, manga, machines’, as War Sum Up bleeds into different mediums and themes which is largely why the production provides such an entertaining spectacle. As the operatic voices emanate from the stage, colossal manga images of man transforming into machine and close ups of facial features and body parts are projected boldly in front of the audience’s eyes.
The show is a world-wide collaboration with a mix of talents, cultures and languages. Those performing on stage come from the talented Latvian Radio Choir while the lyrics are all performed in Japanese with English subtitles. The music is a partnership between UK art-pop ensemble The Irrepresibles and French electronic artist Gilbert Nouno, and the entire production is daringly directed by Danish artist and artistic director Kirsten Delholm from the award-winning company Hotel Pro Forma.
War Sum Up is a magical musical experience that will entrance its audience through its use of unusual costumes, talented vocalists, a rich mix of cultures and mesmerising music.
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide, 5000
Season: 5 – 6 November
Duration: 80 mins
Tickets: $49 – $65