dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Manon for the 21st century
Composer Errollyn Wallen creates a new opera Anon as a Manon for our times.
Inspired by Abbé Prevost's novel Manon Lescaut, Anon aims to bring the story of a fallen woman in the 21st century.
In order to create the libretto Wallen spoke to girls at RSA Academy in Tipton, Birmingham and Newman University and sex workers in the city.
And the results aren't pretty.
Anon begins with two women sitting having a chat about women in the past and women today. When one (Shin-Fei Chen) naively says women today have it easier, the other (Ronke Adekoluejo) is quick to contradict.
And in a kaleidoscope journey the two women see just how bad it can get. Scenes of prostitution sit next to drug addiction, family murders are alongside girls on the run and addiction nudges up to hopelessness.
What is particularly depressing is that the women don't even receive help from each other – we see 'friends' gossiping maliciously and, in a particularly ominous classroom scene, girls vie to claim the ambition of being 'famous'.
It's a dark world that is being painted – and the fact that all of the women are anonymous, sliding from one role to another, aims to make this a universal truth.
When so many of these storylines and much of the libretto came from real life interviews this production is all the more shocking. Is this really the life of women today?
Performance are strong with sopranos Joanna Foote, Sara Lian Owen and Claire Wild weaving the song and story along with the two actors, all moving seamlessly from one tale to another.
There is also a powerful score played by musicians Stuart Wild, Joseph Spooner and James Gambold.
Directed by Wils Wilson and in collaboration with Sampad South Asian Arts, Anon may be short but it certainly packs a punch.
Staged in the Foyle Studio at mac, the space is close and almost claustrophobic at times as the drama takes us into tight spaces – physically, emotionally and mentally.
It's just 40 minutes long but in that time it really does take its cast and its audience on a painful journey through the experiences of some women today. It's a really interesting take on Lescaut's Manon and makes us realise that while some things change, others remain the same.