Darren Berry’s "The Crocodile of Old Kang Pow"
No crocodile tears here - An unfinished opera premieres to a raucous success.
We were lucky enough to attend the sold out premiere of Darren Berry’s - "The Crocodile of Old Kang Pow" first ever-punk opera, at the very special Twenty Century Theater, the perfect venue for this unusual and jocular performance.
A known tale with a new twist - The Marquis de Sade unable to get it hard - but once the first chord had been struck, we knew we were in for something different. Think Horror Picture Show, the Fiddler on the Roof, Madame butterfly, Hair, Rock and Roll Swindle, Tom Waits. Think classic, funk, jazz and sounds from the Iberian Peninsula. Classic and punk in equal measure. Anarchic and serious. This is a tour de force like no other written by Razorlight member, the truly talented Darren Berry- multi-instrumentalist and composer - who conducts as well as acts in the show. In his own words:
"This artistic endeavor is nothing less than an entirely new form of musical theatre! However the term musical theatre does not adequately describe the work. It employs a huge amount of operatic expression, but the word ‘opera’ can and often does alienate people.
I think its fair to say that as a musician, I feel that opera has long been marginalised to the chattering classes and is in danger of disappearing up its own elitist arsehole. I love the art-form and wanted to create something that was bawdy, risqué and – hopefully – would engage an audience that, normally, would never consider ‘going to the opera’:
The Crocodile of Old Kang Pow’ is my attempt to make opera sexy again, make it appealing to a younger crowd, keep the art-form alive...
Yes, it does use operatic singers, yes it does use classical musicians, it also employs contemporary musicians and contemporary singing styles, and yes, what we have are singers on a stage conveying a story with musical accompaniment, but the whole thing is entirely irreverent. And it is very funny. So we require is a new term to describe this production. It is a 'PUNK OPERA'."
Elsewhere, he adds:
“In fact it was whilst being on tour, (where there is an awful lot of waiting for this plane or for that bus) that the idea for the crocodile Opera was hatched.
First came the story. It began as a joke in fact between myself and Johnny (from the band Razorlight) about the Marquis de Sade losing his joie de vivre and then under pain of death journeying to a distant land to entreat a crocodile god of fertility to help him regain his lost Mojo!
All very hallucinogenic stuff, lots of colourful imagery, and as such able to fire the creative mind. “
The show was for the most part performed with the script paper in hand. Oddly it never felt out of place. There was an implicit compromise between performance and audience that allowed for this to happen without getting in the way of our enjoyment of it. The show may not be fully rehearsed or indeed complete in the conventional sense but somehow in the very breaking of that convention it felt true to the sum of its parts.
At the end of every musical piece a palpable anticipation was felt. This could go in any direction: either as an aria, or a jazzy-funky beat or something else. An approach that was refreshing at every turn. This infused a rock n roll spirit to the whole show. Not surprising when you realize that Darren Berry has many rock credentials to his already long involvement with music.
When this is achieved with nearly no support, one can only imagine what it will be produced once the resources are in place. And resources they will get for this is destined for success well outside our West London shores. In one single stroke, Darren has done more for opera then the several million spend by the RBKC on the public subsidized Opera Holland Park.
A word of praise too for the 20th Century Theater that has been promoting an array of quality classic events on a regular basis, and have by hosting this event, shown they are also willing to take risks and promote local talent. We very much hope that Darren Berry and his troupe of talented musicians and performers come back for a season at the venue.
If you have the chance to see this opera, we believe that you, like us, will feel is as surprising, refreshing, fun comedy with rock n roll at its core, it will make you re-think your preconceptions about opera – equally true for lovers and haters of the genre.
The opera is not finished but the key notes are already in place: It has an irreverent but mature approach; It’s colourful, highly entertaining and sexy. There’s a Third Act in the wings and we will the first to get the tickets for it.
The appetite for this kind of original, very modern, and irreverent take on an established genre was present in the sold out crowd who clapped, stomped and whooped as the crocodile snapped its teeth.
We salute you, you filthy Crocodile of Old Kang Pow!
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Last five pictures courtesy of Howard Walmsley
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