Our Carnal Hearts (4 stars) | All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (3 stars) | Sasquatch: The Opera (3 stars)

Matt Trueman reviews Our Carnal Hearts (4 stars) | All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (3 stars) | Sasquatch: The Opera (3 stars)

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Our Carnal Hearts
Published 20 Aug 2017

Our Carnal Hearts is a hymn to human competition – and all those deadly sins that go with it: greed, vanity, envy and more. Structured like a Sunday service, it swerves from sermon to choral song, as Rachel Mars both chastises us for our drive to get one over our neighbours, and simultaneously absolves us of our spite. To envy, she reassures, is human. Doesn’t make it right.

This is a celebration of our uglier aspects – “those bits of us we won’t normally admit”. Mars sends up everything from material greed to the #humblebrag, and her standup-style sermons centre on an old Yiddish joke: the fairy that grants you your wildest wishes, on the proviso your neighbour gets double. “Take one of my eyes,” Mars glints. “Give me mild depression.”

But Our Carnal Hearts never forgets that competition can be healthy. It’s what spurs us on to our greatest achievements, and what sets us apart as individuals. It’s at the very heart of Darwinian evolution, and Mars salutes opposable thumbs in its honour, but it’s also the core of helter-skelter capitalism with all of its needless excesses. It’s in SodaStream machines and over-priced coffee pods, and Mars wants to burn it all down. Doing so, however, involves self-immolation.

It’s a mischievous and humorous hour, but a caring and cathartic one too – not least thanks to Louise Mothersole’s choral score. Here, form and content cross swords. If competition sets us against one another, choirs are collaborative, and her nimble arrangements, as ludicrous as they are crystalline, let four female voices work together as one. Their pitch starts to work a little like pins, both pricking your conscience but allievating like acupuncture. Mars brings us together too: a communion of competitive spirits; green-eyed monsters one and all.

What’s wrong with wanting the world? Middle Child’s rambunctious theatre gig All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, created for Hull’s City of Culture celebrations, asks as much. It finds want at the heart of our world – and it finds our world wanting as a result. Way up overhead, out in space, an asteroid hurtles our way, ready to wipe us all out.

Set squarely in Hull, Luke Barnes’s story bridges societal divides – of class, of wealth and of generations. It follows two single-parent families over 30-odd years, as neoliberalism takes hold and inequality sets in. Bouncer Brian does his all for his daughter Lia (Bryony Davies), just as newly widowed Kimberley does hers for her son Chris (James Stanyer). It’s just that their alls are unequal and, in the eyes of their children, all isn’t enough. As affluent Chris packs off to uni, Lia leaves school at 16 for a job at Build-A-Bear.

Narrated by eyelinered MC Marc Graham—a spark plug presence at the show’s very centre—All We Ever Wanted’s art lies in its open-armed accessibility. Barnes squeezes grand political narratives and history’s sweep into a simple story of two star-crossed young souls. It embraces sentimentality, even slushiness sometimes, but it’s a big-hearted story set to a thumping score.

As it surges through the years, James Frewer’s music keeps pace. Synths kick in as Thatcher wins her third term; Britpop ushers Blair into power. As the banks break a decade later, indie riffs take over, before the return of the synth in 2017 – the space age sounds of Daft Punk or the xx. If that suggests that history’s stuck on repeat—what goes around comes around—the score does more than show the passage of time. It taps into the rhythms of British life. You feel the beat beneath the story’s surface; the sound of a nation at each point in time.

Sasquatch: The Opera is a strange old beast. Written and composed by Faith No More’s keyboardist Roddy Bottum, it spins a tall tale out of American folklore, setting grandiose vocals to a woozy techno score. In a shaggy black bearsuit, orange face and blue lips, Mari Moriarty plays the mythical beast. He sings his arias in a quivering, little voice – not monstrous, just misunderstood. Across the woody wilderness, a gun-toting basso conman sets up a scam, leading tourists to a junkie in a Bigfoot costume.

Chuck in a doomed romance and a chorus of drug slaves and you’ve got something rarely, if ever, seen. For all its patent silliness, Sasquatch never sends itself up. It lacks the irony of its forbear, Jerry Springer: The Opera, but never finds much to stand in its stead. Ideas about otherness, exploitation and man versus nature jostle vaguely together, but for all the dark space-age visuals of Michael Hili’s costumes, Ahmed Ibrahim’s stilted scene-by-scene direction struggles to cohere, neither raising laughs nor managing to unsettle. The music’s the treat though: eerie synths and big beats layered over the heavy footprint of Caroline Scott’s timpani. It’s the one thing that gets into your bones.