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Review: The Invisible Opera at Scarborough Beach 

Review by Emily Smith


An amphitheatre has been set up on the Scarborough beach foreshore for Perth Festival’s Invisible Opera, and everything within our field of view is the stage. From the man hanging a towel over his balcony on the twentieth floor of the Rendezvous Hotel, down to the traffic over the roundabout, to the couples walking up the steps to get dinner, across the beach to the waves lapping against the shore and the last few swimmers, all the way out to the gorgeous sunset over the ocean that we take for granted as Western Australians. 


When we first took our seats and put our headphones on, we were listening to an instrumental version of Scarborough Fair, a nice touch that brought humour to what had potential to be a very pretentious evening. Once we had all checked that our headphones were working, the noises of the area began coming through my headset rather than directly from the source. Snippets of conversation and the bouncing of a basketball had us all swivelling our heads to locate them. A voice (Sophia Brous) started singing in my ear about the clear blue sky, the sound of the waves, and the sun making its descent. The song had no real melody; it was just words said in a singing voice creating a meditative quality. Indeed, the first fifteen minutes started to feel like a guided meditation of noticing stuff and my internet-trained, dopamine-addicted millennial brain started to cry out for more stimulation. Eventually the people being pointed out got faster and more specific, and it began to feel like a game to spot each thing before the singer moved on to another.


While we were observing the people spending their evening in Scarborough, they were watching us back. Understandably, a large grandstand of people all with headphones on facing an empty space must have looked weird, and I am sure we were the subject of many a befuddled Snapchat. As the observations of the singer became stranger and as increasingly unusual people were pointed out I began to realise there were plants in the crowd we were observing, and suddenly I was viewing everyone who passed with suspicion. 


Having said that, I am pretty sure (or maybe I’m just hoping) that the three kids who saw a captive audience and dared each other to run laps in front of us were genuine. The girl who got pushed over by her brother on the return lap, and scrambled up looking embarrassed reminded me that one can never be exclusively an observer in public, there is always someone watching back and acting accordingly.


Later, the meditative section changed to a plain speech, where the voice seemed to be talking to the police about potentially threatening people in the area, and more actors revealed themselves in the crowd by acting obnoxiously or wearing unusual clothing. The participants got weirder, like the man in the possum costume, the tap-dancing swan, or the people on mini trampolines. It was around the time of the giant inflatable monkey that I lost track of what was happening with the voice in my ear.


The message of The Invisible Opera – which I know because a Front of House staff member told me – seems to be to find beauty in the everyday and take time to notice our surroundings. This very wholesome idea got muddled in the confusion of trying to spot the next unusual person in the crowd, and the sluggish finale also lost any discernible meaning or direction. However, we got a great view of a beautiful sunset and there were two ice cream shops across the road to choose from afterwards so who am I to complain.


Image Supplied


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