Now that I have seen Bliss, and, overall, enjoyed the experience, it is a pity not to be so fulsome in praise. The music is excellent and blends cleverly with the singing, never obtruding in the climaxes, although there were few of these, it seemed. The staging was undoubtedly brilliant (pun unintended). The set had a touch of New York about it. The performances, the dancing and the singing were excellent. But “deftly drawn” is not the way I would describe the portrayal of the characters. It is, of course, a given that the characters are all shallow, with the possible exception of Honey but her part only hints at her possible complexity. The rest are rather boring stereotypes, and it may be this which created difficulties for me. A book has many words to develop individuals. The Bliss film presented the cast as caricatures. The opera has cameos which, although individually neat, sadly do not take flight in terms of character development. It is hard to care about any of the characters (or to worry about that cancer cluster in this “prosperous city in Australia”).
The first scene has its moments, although a bit more surrealism might help. (It reminds me of too many cocktail parties endured over the years.) The restaurant scene is neat with great dancing. Harry’s story telling, which enables his escape from the police, is beautifully portrayed. On the other hand, Harry and Honey wandering around the hotel suite, the one in white pyjamas, the other in a white sheet, made me wonder whether indeed we were in heaven rather than in hell.
The production was really hitting its straps as the third act got under way in the asylum. The trio around Harry’s bed was wonderful, and the intervention (song? aria?) by “Nurse” was one of the highlights of the whole night. I felt I knew more about this poor deranged soul than I did about any of the other characters, despite their exposure. Then suddenly there was a long awaited moment when the heroine (?) stands alone on stage for what this observer thought would be the show stopper number. “I’ve lost him!” or words to that effect. Beautiful enough, I guess, but it didn’t move the audience and it didn’t tell any more about what makes Honey tick. The boardroom scene (last supper?) was pulled off magnificently. Pyrotechnics without the pyro, and music blending perfectly with the sound and light effects. Pity that Betty seemed an unlikely suicide bomber. Perhaps post-diagnosis depression was the driver. CSI came briefly to mind.
The two awful children, absorbing it all, then wandering off to lunch said everything that needed to be said about them. Surely Amanda Holden could have written them out. Harry’s home life was bad enough even without them.
And Ms Holden’s rhyming couplets? Hmm!
The final scene was rather a let down. The bare earth plot would have done Andrew Lloyd Webber proud. But again here, the final moments depicting Harry on the way to his Nirvana neither uplifted nor amused. At least we didn’t have to put up with Jack Thompson on the way. And my wife (the gardener in the family) was prompted to muse, after the event, that Harry’s tree planting was poorly executed, with root balls going down too far into rather deep holes in the soil.
So why did we leave this 1980s morality tale somewhat unfulfilled? We put it down to the wrong book and a somewhat disjointed structure. Can’t do anything about Carey’s book, but perhaps some revisions might be in order.