What happens when you watch TV? Is it innocent entertainment or a cynical vehicle to exploit the people it puts on display? Does it serve only to manipulate its audience to buy things or provide a window into the joy and hope of humanity?
Echoing familiar TV programmes – from celebrity reality series to talent shows and catchy advert jingles – this experimental Streetwise Opera and Tête à Tête co-production explored both the humour and darker undertones of the small screen.
People Watch was composed by Streetwise Opera Composer in Residence Stef Conner with libretto and direction by Tête à Tête Artistic Director Bill Bankes-Jones. All of the ideas and text onstage were inspired by Streetwise Opera’s London performers, many of whom have experienced homelessness.
Featuring Streetwise performers alongside the Ligeti Quartet and singer Susannah Austin, this bold new opera opened Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2015 at The Place theatre on 21 July 2015. People Watch was also the third and final work in Streetwise Opera's 2014-15 Little Opera season.
Composer: Stef Conner
Librettist / Director: Bill Bankes-Jones
Music Director: Timothy Burke
Designer: Sarah Booth
Cast: Streetwise Opera London performers and singer Susannah Austin
Instrumentalists: Ligeti Quartet
‘Opera is fun, and as an art form, it lends itself particularly well to these kind of short, experimental pieces that Tête à Tête and Streetwise Opera create. Devised from workshops with the performers, with composer Stef Conner, and performed, if not evenly, then certainly engagingly, People Watch is a sly jab at us the viewing public.’
‘The cast’s inspiring sense of purpose glows in their committed, impressive performance. Bill Bankes-Jones’ words capture the everyday while touching on the regretful… The Ligeti Quartet, dressed as black cats complete with whiskers and tails, makes the most of Stef Conner’s music, combining Celtic harmonies with shivering or spiky string effects, resolving regularly into comfortable warmth.’
‘Featuring cast members who have experienced homelessness, People Watch is in effect Gogglebox: The Opera, with a cast of around 30 settled into sofas and armchairs for an evening’s viewing. The banality of television – the celebrity reality shows, the ads for cleaning products, performing pets – comes over strongly, but the ending is a rousing chorus of hope and of TV’s transformative powers.’