Among misty foliage and mossy knolls against harsh piercing brass and rumbling timpani a hidden presence sings of his loneliness, his only companion the tick in his ear which he believes is trying to enter his brain. The band already assembled on stage, the audience have entered the territory of that most elusive and misunderstood creature of the northern forests, the Sasquatch.
Directed by Ahmed Ibrahim with music and libretto by Roddy Bottum, best known as a long serving member of the contrarian and often confrontational rock band Faith No More, Sasquatch: the Opera premiered in New York in 2015 and has now migrated across the ocean to the Edinburgh Fringe.
With a month long residency at Summerhall, a performance complex already established as a home of alternative arts culture within the city, as would be expected of Bottum it’s nothing so facile or lowly as a musical, and with no discernible melodies for an audience to latch onto and merrily sing as they traipse home across the Meadows after it will not be to everyone’s taste.
A rarely sighted creature, a cryptid linked more to folklore and myth than the science of natural history, the reclusive Sasquatch (Mari Moriarty) lives in harmony with the land but is not so primitive as those who intrude into his wide domain, the backwood family of Fodder, Dodder and Brodder (Joe Chappel, Bonnie Baxter and Tristan Viner-Brown).
Their attempts to disguise Brodder in matted black fur to lure tourists a failure, Dodder flees to the woods from the brutal slavery of her existence, a broken woman on a chain dressed in rags who finds a measure of sanctuary and tentative comfort with the Sasquatch, but neither Fodder nor Dodder are willing to accept her betrayal and abandonment of them.
With a full scene breakdown in the programme it is recommended to read it before the lights go out for in keeping with the operatic setting there is little ground given to those unfamiliar with the form, and neither is it a joyous or mirthful experience as Fodder enlists the overseer of the local meth lab Samson (Alex Frankel) and his workers, an invasion of synthetic clad masked figures into the natural world.
Creating a place alien, inhuman and mysterious with so little are set and lighting designers Michael Hili and Joshua Rose, and with Moriarty’s gentle performance reminding of Edward Gusts’ in the title role of Robert Beaucage’s Spike it is a tale of a broken beauty and her reclusive beast.
Above the pulsing synthesizers the performers sometimes focus more on power than on subtlety but cutting through the aural murk the vocal highlights are Brodder’s cold turkey solo on the forest floor and the Sasquatch sighting the rising moon voiced by Nara Taylor, and it is certainly one of the most unusual shows of the season.