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Review: It’s Still Her Voice @ Brand X (Flying Nun)

Review by Olivia Ruggiero

“It’s Still Her Voice” is an adaption of Jean Cocteau’s 1928 play and Francis Poulenc’s 1957 opera (La Voix Humaine). The story takes two separate women desperately trying to reach their respective lovers, whilst the latter inadvertently tries to end their relationship. We see these women in a fraught attempt to dispel the breakup.

The adaption has Poulenc’s opera at its core, using his leitmotifs and dissonant harmonies to hold the story together. As an audience, it is left to us to decide what is being said on the other side of the conversation, and we are led beautifully by Pollyanna Nowicki (actress) and Karina Bailey (vocalist). These brilliant performances, coupled with musical direction by Antonio Fernandez, Kate Gaul’s direction and Poulenc’s score, provide 45 minutes of entertainment that left me on the edge of my seat – wanting more.

Pollyanna Nowicki gives a believable and engaging performance. The contemporary script, although bitsy, was enough to give us insight into her character and Nowicki creates something incredibly relatable, someone that you can truly sympathise with. Her acting beats were precise and clear, and her choices showed her versatility. She allowed the audience to see the black comedy within the text and led us on her journey with grace and poise. Karina Bailey has the opportunity to show off her talents as a vocalist and does not disappoint. The endless recitative that is Poulenc’s score can be difficult and tiring, but Bailey shows no sign of fatigue or unease. The most impressive part is that through this recitative and at times stagnant melodic line, we are able to hear so many different and glorious colours in her vocal timbre. Not only does she impress as a vocalist but as an actress – an opera singer who is unafraid to express or commit to her character using not only her voice but her body to tell the story.

Antonio Fernandez does a wonderful job of musically directing this score. He takes the complexity of Poulenc’s music and makes it entirely accessible and almost contemporary. He deftly and ably shows his skills as a pianist as well as a wonderfully insightful musical director. Kate Gaul’s direction is beautifully executed and well thought out. The opening tableau of Pollyanna Nowicki face down, her body strewn across the floor, hanging off a fallen chair and Karina Bailey, perched precariously on a parallel chair so exquisitely set up the hazardous mindset of these two women. Gaul’s adaption of these two works is fresh and exciting. It displays the ways in which opera is still relevant and can be accessible to contemporary audiences. The parallel of the two red telephones, the bottles of alcohol and pill dispensers that ordain the set instantaneously evoke the drama that is to ensue.

Siren Theatre Company’s production of “It’s Still Her Voice” perfectly illustrates that you don’t need an enormous budget, 100 lighting cues, complex set design and a giant space to achieve theatrical success. The heart of this production is its brilliant performances, provocative direction and musical excellence. This production deserves a second life, so that larger audiences have the opportunity to see it and basque in its fineness.

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