'… a work that weaves together contemporary classical music, philosophical ponderings and hard facts in a moving paean to a modern medical miracle.' The Stage (Fergus Morgan)
We Are in Time is an arresting new music-theatre work by Valgeir Sigurðsson to a text by Pamela Carter.
It has been premiered to great acclaim on a 7-date Scottish tour in February and March this year, in superlative performances by Scottish Ensemble and Untitled Projects (director Stewart Laing). Scored for narrator, 2 singers, 12-piece string ensemble and electronics the 90-minute work is a fascinating and moving meditation on the journey of a transplanted heart.
'All art is an exploration of what makes us human, but it’s a brave piece that tackles that most fundamental question head on. This new piece of music theatre does just that, using the journey of a transplanted heart to ask questions about what constitutes life and whence we derive our humanity.
Pamela Carter’s text creates an effective dramatic scenario in which to ask these enormous questions. Jay, sung with a nimble falsetto by Jodie Landau, is rendered brain-dead by an accident, and his heart is given up for donation to Stella, a sufferer from heart disease, powerfully sung by Ruby Philogene. We Are In Time is partly about the heart’s physical journey from one body to another, but on a deeper level it delves into visceral questions of the characters’ existence. As Jay’s body gives up its physical functions, he wonders whether he’s really still alive once the machine takes over, and Stella renounces her old heart with no certainty that the new one will work. Throughout, Alison O’Donnell’s narrator guides us through the procedure with gentle efficiency, quietly entranced by the miracle of it all.
Valgeir Sigurðsson’s score is a shimmering miasma of sound, occasionally punctuated by soaring lyricism from the voices or from the string players of the Scottish Ensemble, whose masterful playing, directed by Jonathan Morton, is fundamental to the piece’s success. They gamely sing the part of the Chorus, too, their syllabic unison evoking Gregorian chant, thus giving them the simultaneous roles of medical staff and high priests of science.
… the simple set, consisting of two operating tables, allows the story to unfold clearly, and the blue-green visuals subtly evoke the sterility of the hospital ward and the fear of being alone. This is an impressive premiere, moving and strange, and it never loses sight of the fact that, as the chorus ultimately reminds us, we’re all only human.'
The Times (Simon Thompson), 27 February 2020
'The cumulative effect is quite something – a work that weaves together contemporary classical music, philosophical ponderings and hard facts in a moving paean to a modern medical miracle.'
The Stage (Fergus Morgan), 27 February 2020
'… surely the most adventurous of the many bold collaborations that have been undertaken by the Scottish Ensemble under Jonathan Morton’s leadership and artistic direction…
It is witty and fascinating, full of ear-catching lines and with a score that references early music as well as traditional. As the story darkens, the music seems to become lighter, Landau’s voice using some of the same palette as the Beach Boys and a Philogene’s later aria of survival rates in transplant surgery having a distinct resemblance to the sound of Glasgow’s Blue Nile.
The players costumed, by Sabrina Henry, in a preppy take on operating theatre scrubs, the parallel between the chamber group and a surgical team is the final metaphor in production that wears its substantial technical achievements lightly, and is, critically, full of heart.'
Herald Scotland (Keith Bruce), 27 February 2020