(probably contains spoilers)
It took me about 20 minutes to really sink into Carmen Disruption.
When I realised the bull was actually breathing, I sunk right in and just kept on falling.
Carmen Disruption is like if Bizet’s Carmen was hit by a massive bomb and scattered everywhere in little bits, and then someone found some of the pieces and tried to put it all back together again. But the person putting it back together had only heard bits of the opera, and they had just lost their new iPhone and they were really fucking angry about how much it turned out they actually missed and needed the iPhone because they couldn’t even look up the plot of Carmen The Actual Opera. And then once they’d finished trying to put it all back together, it spontaneously combusted into slow falling metallic confetti and fury.
I mean it’s actually much cleverer than that; there are loads of brilliant parallels between this and Carmen The Actual Opera, and layers of ideas and anger piled up. But the point is that it feels blown apart, ripped up and aggressive.
The Almeida has been made to look like a backstreet opera house, complete with tattered chandelier hanging from above and red carpet shredded along the aisles. The theatre bleeds into the set, with bricks crumbled and theatre seats ripped out and left abandoned on stage. The lighting design has that thing where they fill the whole place with haze then have really pale lights and it makes everything seem really, really dusty. It’s beautiful and unsettling.
There are 6 characters on stage, some of whom are based on characters of Bizet’s original, but worn down and updated by the modern world. They never engage directly with each other, and they sort of aimlessly inhabit a non-specific homogenised world. It’s hollow and haunting: where Bizet’s Carmen is full of unbridled-let’s-run-away-together passion, Stephens’ version is wallowing in horrible loneliness and self-loathing. Even in acts of intimacy there is distance, a screen or a phone or a shitload of money at stake – when describing intimacy Carmen Disruption is at its most skin-crawlingly violent. No one is connected, they just fuck or share awkward sexy selfies with manipulative old perverts.
A singer wanders through the stage belting out lines from Carmen The Actual Opera, an echo of the passion that their disconnected world can’t grasp hold of anymore. She is permanently out of reach, only noticeable when she might be worth of a fuck with a rich man or her death might look pretty cool on Instagram.
The thing about watching Carmen Disruption is that it actually hurts. It’s sort of this weird, mystical world but it’s so much also the world we live in, or at least the world we are hurtling towards. It hurts, sets your soul on fire and makes you wish you could finally delete your fucking Facebook account.
You watch a screen for the final seconds, deceived out of watching the actual play by pixelated text. A final act of disruption to really frustrate you at the end of a fractured, blistering hour and a bit.