I Went To The House But Did Not Enter, at the Royal Lyceum
The Hilliard Ensemble provided some of the festival's strangest, yet strongest and most resonant, sounds and images
The unclassifiable German composer- director Heiner Goebbels has been a regular Edinburgh visitor for more than a decade. His latest piece of music theatre, I Went to the House but Did Not Enter, was a world premiere using the vocal talents of the Hilliard Ensemble and featuring four relatively short 20th-century literary texts in a series of tableaux. In doing so he and his collaborators, including the designer Klaus Grünberg, provided the 2008 festival with some of its strangest yet strongest, most resonant sounds and images.
Four men in dark overcoats enter a pale grey room and calmly, silently proceed to strip it of its symmetrically arranged contents - tea set, vase and flowers, dog portraits, curtains, table and carpet. These methodical thieves then reverse their deconstruction with a small yet significant alteration: the items that were white before are now black, and vice versa. Occasionally they stop and sing, in a kind of atonal harmony, The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock. The crushing serenity of this 40-minute episode is an almost perfect realisation of the innately suburban emotional failure embedded in T.S. Eliot's poem.
The entire set is then converted into the exterior of a two-storey dwelling at night. Here the text is a philosophical confessional by Maurice Blanchot, its fragmentary, vaguely conversational prose spoken tonelessly by the four males as they go about seemingly ordinary domestic business - working on a computer, say, or pottering in the garage. The level of detail in their actions is increasingly sinister as their words creep towards madness, violence and paranoia. Imagine Rear Window updated into surveillance culture. The effect is positively Kafkaesque, rendering a five-minute musical coda derived from a gaily alienated Kafka text absolutely apt. The men sing it outside the building like some avant-garde street-corner barbershop quartet.
The finale, to Samuel Beckett's weirdly incantatory Worstward Ho, occurs in a tall, triangular wedge of a hotel room, its familiar comforts couched in shades of dusky rose. Locating Beckett's eternal void in such a location is inspired, its brilliance compounded when the men set up a portable screen and view a slide show of holiday snaps in natural settings. The aura of faded longing is haunting. Hats off to Goebbels, Grünberg and the bleak, blended beauty of the voices of David James, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold and Gordon Jones.
The Times (GB), 1 September 2008