With Puccini and Rossini currently filling London’s Little Opera House each evening, Stephen Crowe’s acerbic chamber piece adds some welcome atonality in the late night slot.
Cello and viola, scratching and scraping like a squeaky door, underscore Crowe’s own witty text, as a man and woman, both a bit the worse for wear, clumsily cop off at a party.
A raucous interlude on trumpet and alto sax leads to a second scene, where the pair, now a couple, bicker about broccoli and dry duck while the vocal lines jump around alarmingly. Here the vocals are unaccompanied, alternating with further outbursts of vibrant brassy cacophony.
Programme notes (which include intriguing illustrations of the score) tell us that the piece started life six years ago, at a Nottingham premiere, and has undergone major revision since then. Wretched Bliss (the former more prominent than the latter) has ended up as a delightful, funny and accomplished entertainment, showing considerable verbal and musical flair.
The four-piece ensemble, directed by Genevieve Ellis, is superb and Nick Dwyer and Zoe Challenor excel as the feuding lovers. They project the lines crisply and clearly, just as well as the King’s Head has some housekeeping issues in its relationship with its own pub. A loud and intrusive band was far too evident on the first night.
Wretched Bliss, running intermittently until 25 January, starts at 10.00pm and plays for 40 minutes.
- Simon Thomas