Spectacle Archive

Battersea Square - 1999


Battersea Square was part of a new audience program run by BAC. It used the soap opera as a medium, engaging with the real issues that effect patrons at the local pub, The Raven, where a series of live episodes were staged- with cameos from members

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Date: March 1999
Location: Battersea
City: London, England
Crew: BAC, Spectacle
Organisation: Battersea Arts Centre
Event: Just for You
Original Format - colour, mini DV, 10 mins mins
Language versions - english
Useful link: - http://www.newaudiences.org.uk/...

Ordering Information

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Further Details

Ellie is a lesbian, but her parents don't know. They've got too much to worry about, what with Gran's Alzheimer's and incontinence. The house is too small and Mum doesn't get on with Gran - it's putting a strain on everyone. Anyway, Dad is virulently homophobic so coming out to him isn't going to be easy. And Rob, Ellie's ex-boyfriend (who has just discovered he is adopted) doesn't know either. Meanwhile, new girlfriend Sue is upset that Ellie won't tell her parents and tries to help her do it.

It's a classic soap opera plot: emotional conflicts, secrets and lies. But this soap isn't on TV. It's being performed live, in a theatre, in three 40-minute episodes over three weeks. And if you miss any of the parts, there is a special two-hour omnibus edition at the end.

More unusually, this performance is taking the term of soap opera quite literally. The cast of eight are all opera singers, the script is a libretto. Opera Soap is exactly what it says it is - a soap opera opera.

Exploring the boundaries of soap is Absolute Theatre's forte. Late last year it staged Battersea Square - a live soap opera performed weekly in a pub in south London. It was the success of those shows that spawned Opera Soap. In Battersea Square the pub regulars could suggest, through feedback forms, where the storyline should go. The local MP had a walk-on part and the Metropolitan Police, cameo roles. And the two "series" of this living soap went down so well with the regulars, who turned up to the pub for a pint and a plot twist, that Absolute Theatre director Andrew Pratt was convinced of the appeal of live soap.

Battersea Arts Centre, who had produced the project, commissioned this second phase to move into actual opera. BAC's artistic director, Tom Morris, approached Absolute Theatre with the idea and Pratt seized on it. He began to write a storyline in collaboration with composer Simon Fraser.

The resulting libretto communicates the gritty issues with intense emotion and is peppered with expletives and domestic detail. "I wasn't writing to any tunes," Pratt explains. "I was trying to make a piece of intimate TV-style soap opera that had lyricism. I wrote words that could be sung," he says. Choosing characters was straightforward - enjoyable, even. The mode of handling soapy personalities is, for Pratt, a major part of the appeal of writing in this genre. "It's wonderful to be able to go back to the same characters all the time," he says, "to have really long relationships with them; that's one of the strengths of soap, why people think those characters are real." Mark Espiner, Independent on Sunday, Sunday, 13 August 2000

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