Everything about Chamber Pot Opera sounded amazing; A total reversal of a traditional opera done using classic arias, all female, set in a toilet, turning a whole genre on its head. It’s what opera fans have been calling for, something that captures the drama, sincerity, darkness and passion of the art form but that isn’t told from the perspective of creaking old men. Something that transcends dusty seats and ‘sit quietly’ and saving for 6 months to go to something you daren’t admit to not quite understanding afterwards.
It could have been revolutionary. But it misses.
A feminist opera that divides their participants by gender – seating the women and standing the men, has simply failed, undermining everything contemporary about their show by bringing in social order from the 19th Century. In a site-specific performance the audience experience and the show are two parts of the same whole, the performers and the opera may be truly special and are certainly highly praised from all corners but the rest of the experience is just as important.
It absolutely cannot be ignored that even on a practical level, the basic seating plan for audience members leaves a lot to be desired. The highest tier of seating, a wooden bench, presumably built for the show, leaves four unfortunates painfully dangling their legs from a high ledge, unable to get down freely and steadily losing feeling in their feet. One of these four is also blind to about a third of the performance, because of their seat position. No obvious attempt was made to check for back or leg problems before deciding who would sit or stand nor did the company show any awareness of the restricted view, something such shows would normally try to make up for, often with extra interactions.
It’s also hard, from the back of the seating area to feel like you’re really sharing the same space as the performers. It’s more like sitting in the second row at a studio theatre with a really realistic set; you’re close but still separate.
There are a lot of missed opportunities for a more interesting and involved experience here: Giving people different viewing angles, so they can compare notes afterwards, or come back for multiple showings; having performers move around or through the audience, sit next to audience members or just sing closer; allowing people to participate by holding tissue paper bunting or throwing confetti; any of these could have lifted Chamber Pot Opera out of it’s traditional fourth wall staging without drastically changing any content but instead everything falls well within boundaries.
At best, it is a piece which has not fulfilled its potential, at worst it is an exercise in making your audience physically uncomfortable and potentially unsafe; Bontom may have created an inspiring and innovative new opera in Chamber Pot but they fall far short of creating even a good site-specific work. Ultimately, the mishandling of audience members brings all their art to nothing. 2/5