At the end of 2016, in his Crack Magazine cover story with GAIKA, Dean Blunt revealed he was “writing an opera with a friend”. In the same conversation, Blunt also claimed to be involved with a forthcoming three day festival which would include free martial arts classes taught by Babyfather member Triumph Allah alongside a lecture by legendary feminist writer bell hooks. The proposed month of the festival – May 2017 – came and went. But the opera project, it would seem, has come to fruition as 𝕴 𝖓 𝖓 𝖆, with music composed by Mica Levi.
There’s sometimes a sense of eccentricity or humour to Dean Blunt’s projects which can make some people feel anxious that they’re the butt of a joke – particularly, perhaps, those who aren’t comfortable with questioning their own sense of entitlement. But, as unconventional as it may be, 𝕴 𝖓 𝖓 𝖆 is another sincere work of art from Blunt. After all, Blunt has previously produced theatre that’s been performed in Berlin and Switzerland, and this is his third project at the ICA. Like Blunt, Levi’s music with Micachu & The Shapes saw her approach experimentalism with playful lo-fidelity, but her fairly recent foray into composing film soundtracks has seen her stroll the red carpet and scoop up awards.
As the audience enter the ICA’s venue space, staff firmly implement a no photos policy by strapping our phones in material pouches. We’re then handed the programme notes – a page of A4 paper which simply reads:
dropped acid with my favourite person
became an angel
watched over the city
As the lights fade, the curtains are drawn to the sound of a heavy metal guitar riff. The stage setting is minimal and dark with a red and black colour palette. A trio of skulls sit on the left, while on the right three female opera singers sit in a couch, all of them dressed in blood red. In the middle is a man dressed plainly in a black jacket (a possible portrayal of Blunt’s casual attire?) with angel wings. He lights a large spliff from one of the three candles before him, and continues to toke from it throughout the performance.
Over the course of around 50 minutes, Levi’s subtle arrangements and sloppy guitar soundtrack a narrative in which the angel drinks desperately from a bottle, anxiously checks his appearance in a barber’s mirror and – at one point – holds up a skull mouth and blows smoke into it, bringing to mind the scene of Hamlet addressing Yorick’s fleshless head in the graveyard. The singers, whose voices resonate with immense power, express all the pain of a relationship turned toxic (“I would have done anything for you, why am I here?”) which eventually leads the angel to collapse, facedown, with a large thud as the curtains close and that metal riff rings out once again. Bravo.