In the Locked Room & Ghost Patrol, EIF 2012, Review

Edinburgh Festival review
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Scottish Opera
Huw Watkins (music - In the Locked Room), David Harsent (words - In the Locked Room), Stuart MacRae (music - Ghost Patrol), Louise Welsh (words - Ghost Patrol), Players from The Orchestra of Scottish Opera, Michael Rafferty (conductor)
Ruby Hughes (Ella - In the Locked Room), Paul Curvievici (Stephen - In the Locked Room), James McOran-Campbell (Alasdair - Ghost Patrol), Nicholas Sharratt (Sam - Ghost Patrol), Jane Harrington (Vicki - Ghost Patrol)
Running time

In the Locked Room Stylishly conducted by Michael Rafferty and with a dazzling array of orchestral colours, “In the Locked Room” offered us an exciting performance.

Ruby Hughes sang the character of Ella with great charm and expression. Alongside her, Paul Curievici’s performance of Stephen was captivating and revealed his beautiful and flexible voice.

There were capricious sounds from the clarinet in the orchestra – Nicholas Ross – who played with the kind of quirky charisma that brings a smile to the face. Jane Bloxwhich’s bassoon playing also shown out, together with some exquisitely beautiful passages on the harp from Salda de Lyon.

While the performance glistened vigorously, I wasn’t convinced by the plot (as it was revealed to us in this piece). This concerns Ella and her husband Stephen who works in the city. They have rented a room in a holiday home by the sea. Ella seems totally disinterested in her husband’s work, while he in turn is excited by the fruition of his next big deal. Ella becomes fascinated by a poet who is also staying in the house.

For me, this would all have worked far better if there was just a little more depth to the characters. While the theme has obvious contemporary relevance, the treatment of “boy obsessed with work so girl falls for another man” seemed unrealistic in this case because of the over-simplicity of the relationship. I found Ella’s character too naïve to be genuine and unconvinced that she and Stephen would have ever got together in the first place.

Had the plot an injection of more vice and perhaps some darker, more sinister aspects to the relationship, this might have left us with more to think about. As it stands, it all seems basic and unlikely. The composition had a pure, Britten-like quality with rasping textures and layered soloistic lines.

There was a sense of economy and vivid use of colour. I did find myself feeling there were some lost opportunities in terms of the music’s support of the drama on stage. Sometimes, the music could have expressed the characters’ dramatic tension more effectively. A key exception to this was when Stephen creeps into bed late at night, having been working hard, and he makes love to Ella. His sexual aggression (and sense of power) is conveyed through the rhythm and storm of the music, while Ella looks away with a look of boredom on her face.

Ghost Patrol

Alasdair owns a bar and Vicki is his girlfriend. Sam, who has been sleeping rough outside, tries to break into the bar. Alasdair realises that he and Sam were in the army together and we learn that they saw military action, which still haunts them. They befriend each other, in spite of Sam’s attempted crime against Alasdair. Alasdair offers Sam a job in the bar. Vicki is upset by this and then has an affair with Sam, which is discovered and all ends in tears.

Here we have a plot with greater depth and more humanistic qualities than “In the Locked Room.” I found myself intrigued by the conflicting relationships of the three characters and interested to reflect on how they each respond to their different changing circumstances (both in the recent past and the present).

The contemporary topical themes of the military and the idea of an ex-serviceman left destitute seemed well-chosen and were flavoured with a cocktail of crime, forgiveness, love, loyalty and betrayal, which was fascinating to see played out.

Stuart MacRae’s score grabbed our attention with its twists and turns in this love triangle drama, though I couldn’t help wonder whether he could have brought just a little more interest to the singers’ melodies – to contribute as much to these as to the orchestra’s dashing music. Jane Harrington’s performance as Vicki was fantastically creative – gripping, flirtatious and full of action.

Having just heard “In the Locked Room,” which knits everything into a slick 45-minutes, I found myself wondering if “Ghost Patrol” could have moved at a slightly faster pace.

The piece itself though had a dark and complex quality, with a mixture of positive and negative human feelings and actions, which made it rich in substance and thoroughly compelling.