High fashion and opera aren’t two things that one would necessarily combine off the bat. However, WEAR written by Alastair White and produced by UU Studios as part of the Tête a Tête festival manages to find success in the combination.
Set in a post-apocalyptic and distinctly neutral visual landscape, WEAR’s story focusses on the relationship between the designer (Kelly Poukens) and the writer (Kelly Poukens). In terms of the narrative, I would say that it feels almost Beckettian, the language being distanced and disembodied through the operatic style. From a design perspective Derek Lawlor’s work, based heavily on Japanese Samurai designs contributes massively to Gemma A. Williams and White’s concept. This is an opera that is as much about the designs as it is the music. That’s apparent on a very simplistic level considering the fashion is quite simply on display around the cast and the bare accompanying piano is exposed, almost pitting the two against one another.
“I wholly look forward to what this talented company conjure up next”
Musically, the score is almost a-tonal. At times contributing to a distinctly uncomfortable feeling as the two “reflections” (Alana Everett and Max Gershon) move in and out of the standing audience. At times, the score feels akin to the work of Hans Zimmer, not shying away from utilising the sparse sound of the lone grand-piano, expertly played by Ben Smith. To layman audiences, the show would have been a little difficult to grasp had the book not been helpfully provided online. Some members of the audience were indeed following along on the phones. When WEAR is so much a conversation between music and visual art in the form of fashion, the fact that the words were disguised by the visual form made this a show that really took my all to follow.
The true success that WEAR finds is in showcasing the artists behind it. As an audience we are excellently exposed to the work of White as a composer and conceptualist, Lawlor as a designer, Williams as a director and Everett as a choreographer. It’s not a show that you just sit back and watch, it really is a show that you engage with; partly out of necessity but also out of a desire to immerse both in the world of the story and the design which surrounds it. Similarly, its a show that you could take to any place in terms of transposing its themes; if I hadn’t of read the online book, I might have taken a completely separate narrative away. Some might not enjoy that level of freedom when seeing a show but if you can get into the right headspace, it’s a liberating feeling.
Undeniably, WEAR is a beautiful show. There’s an awful lot of varied talent on display and whilst some might not enjoy the form of opera or the Beckettian nature of this one in particular, it is a show to get immersed in. I wholly look forward to what this talented company conjure up next.
Image: UU Studios