Paul T Davies reviews The Paradis Files presented by GRAEAE at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester as part of a tour.
The Paradis Files.
Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
23 April 2022
One of the many things I love about Graeae is that I never know what they are going to do next. And here is the most perfect show about Maria Theresia von Paradis, a contemporary of Mozart and Salieri, (who she may have had affairs with), and another woman written out of men’s recording of history. She was known as “The Blind Enchantress”, toured throughout Europe and only a handful of her work remains. From this, composer Errollyn Wallen, director Jenny Sealy, librettist Nicola Werenowska and co-librettist and original idea creative Selina Mills have created one of the most perfect and accomplished pieces of theatre I’ve seen this year. Everything on stage is in perfect harmony, not least the singing, even the surtitles have the correct colour for each character, and they are as animated as the cast.
The prologue is the ensemble introducing themselves, the roles they are playing, the colour of their costumes, their disabilities and they also describe the set. We will view this very much through the Graeae experience, and there is so much to watch and enjoy I often didn’t know where to look. There is not a weak member of the ensemble, and, with the band being on stage throughout, it very felt like a community that we were invited in and to be part of. Sometimes I just shut my eyes and listened to the gorgeous singing. As Theresia, Bethan Langford was outstanding, communicating beautifully the pain inflicted on her by a success of quack doctors who claim they can “cure” her blindness, (this sequence was so powerful- the words “Oh, the pain” have rarely been sung so beautifully and heart-breaking), and her strength shone through. In conflict with her mother, superb Maureen Braithwaite, we understand how disability makes a person the Other, the Outsider, society dictating it so. Their personal story is played out in front of a group of gossips, Omar Ebrahim, Andee-Louise Hypolite and Ben Thapa all blending together and then splintering to play other roles perfectly, and Ella Taylor is excellent as the maid Gerda, in may ways our conduit between the different layers of society.
I particularly want to compliment the performance interpreters Chandrika Gopalakrishnan and Max Marchewicz, who signed the piece beautifully, and were a performance in themselves! This is a sumptuous feast of an opera, and we really need to find another word for disabled. What I saw was empowering. If you have the chance to catch The Paradis Files, which now visits Hull, Perth, Cardiff and Sheffield, I urge you to see it!