Why won’t the sheep cross that land?

Sometimes people should stop and ask themselves “is this really a good idea?”  If they did, I would have been spared my worst theatrical memory, which is still vivid nearly fifteen years later.  By far the worst thing I have ever witnessed on the stage was The Roswell Incident, in a touring production by Music Theatre Wales.  I was studying A Level Theatre Studies at the time, and we had to immerse ourselves in as much theatre as possible, so we would dutifully travel to the nearest towns and cities which were blessed with theatres, and saw many wonderful productions, including Blood Brothers and a Georges Feydeau farce, which made me laugh until I cried.  The Roswell Incident just left me numb, partly because what we did not know until we arrived was that this was a chamber opera (we really hadn’t done our research, for all we knew really was the title and the venue).  The main thought that passed repeatedly through our heads as we watched it unfold was ‘why?’  Why did anyone decide this was a good idea?  Why didn’t anyone stop them?  And why are we watching this?  To be fair, the year was 1997, the 50th anniversary of the famous potential alien crash landing, but that really was no excuse.

The opera opened with lots of flashing lights and exciting sci-fi-type noises in a sequence designed to evoke the flight, and more importantly the crash landing, of an alien vessel.  After this visceral, exciting and engaging beginning, we met our first character, a farmer, and we were treated to an aria (I think that would be the right term) from him.  Even now, I have flashbacks to this moment, as he maintained a straight face as he asked “why won’t the sheep cross that land?”  A fair question, but opera of course tends to stretch most questions and statements out for a very long time indeed.  Sometimes this can be beautiful, but in this case it was almost funny, but not in a good way.  I remember distinctly that “sheep”, on at least one occasion during this song/aria/section of recitative/whatever, lasted for more syllables than it should be allowed to.  “Shee-hee-hee-hee-heep” a relatively accurate rendering of it.  And the word “land” was set on a very low note indeed, right at the bottom of the singer’s range.  Basses can sound glorious, but there is something extraordinarily comical about a man hitting the lowest notes in his register (hitting the highest notes, on the other hand, is often painful rather than funny).  Perhaps time has been unkind, exaggerating these features which struck me on first (and, thank goodness, last) hearing, but there was worse to come.

The alien or aliens (it wasn’t entirely clear) was or were portrayed by four children in platinum blond(e) wigs.  At one point in the proceedings, these four little cherubs sang a song about…  well, about something.  Possibly about being a lovely peace-loving alien or aliens, travelling through space and spreading alien happiness.  I don’t recall.  What I do recall is that the choreography largely involved tipping their heads to one side, straightening them and then tipping them to the other side.  The reason I remember this is because one alien (or one aspect of the alien’s mind) had a loose wig, so that when its head tilted one way, the wig would flop off, then would land neatly back on the child’s head a few bars later, only to come loose again.  Over and over again.  I doubt anyone in the audience would have noticed if the rest of the cast ran around naked at the back of the stage, as the flip-flopping wig had a hypnotic power which held our attention in a truly powerful way.  Which would explain why I can’t remember what the alien or aliens was or were singing about.

To make matters worse, to illustrate the crash of the ship and the terribly sad death of its crew of one or four, the children climbed into body bags.  Except one of them couldn’t get the body bag open, so we were treated to the sight of a poor child struggling with a sheet of black plastic, desperately trying to create an opening to crawl into.  I want to be able to say that he or she just gave up and threw the unopened body bag over their body, but I think that is just wishful thinking.  By this point, anything could have happened and I really wouldn’t have been surprised.

After the wigs and body bags section, the opera went on to examine other perspectives on the incident, including the yearly Roswell UFO Festival and other ways in which the event has made an impact on society.  It may have had some interesting points to make, but by this point it had lost me.  I truly could not believe what I was seeing and hearing.  Now, so many years later, I sometimes have to get the programme out to reassure myself that the whole thing was not a fever dream.  A truly surreal experience, I can’t imagine I will ever see anything like it again.

    • Trish
    • November 16th, 2010

    It could have been worse. There could have been children dressed up as sheep refusing to cross that land.

  1. Now that is a truly horrible thought!

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