Your company Siren Theatre has worked on many productions over the years. What about this play were you initially drawn to? 

It’s Still Her Voice is our adaptation – or a mash up – of Jean Cocteau’s 1928 play and Francis Poulenc’s opera of 1958 La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice). Both works portray an unnamed woman speaking on the telephone for 40 minutes to a lover who is leaving her. Her predicament is timeless and universal. Whatever one’s gender or sexual orientation, who has not waited for a former lover to call, overcome by such intense despair that living on seems impossible?

We take the opera, sung in French, as the core or spine of the adaptation. A contemporary English text weaves it’s way though the edited score. Two different women are overtly trying (and failing) to suppress mounting hysteria as their female lover gives them the heave-ho. We only ever hear one side of a telephone conversation. We’re left to infer that other side of the conversation both from the women’s reaction to it and from Poulenc’s score, which reinforces and comments on their emotional state.

I’ve called the mash up It’s Still Her Voice partly to mark this production as an adaptation and also to reclaim the central voice of the source material as female.

To answer your question – I created Siren Theatre Co to produce and create work that I wouldn’t normally get the chance to encounter elsewhere. It’s grown into exploring and strengthening artistic relationships, partnerships and opportunities.

What were some of the challenges in working with both an opera and the play it was adapted from to create your show?

It’s actually extremely tricky because the source material is a play that becomes an opera and then is rudely shaken back into the opera as a play. Wild. It may not work. But that’s the beauty of having some experimental time and a modest 4-performance outing. We get to test the idea and gauge audience response. It would be easy to become over the top with this kind of material. Both actor and singer are offered super fast swings in mood and tone. It is heightened, and the challenge is to be subtle and precise. The tension has to build slowly. It often feels excruciating as the characters ever more focus their obsession on an impersonal, weirdly disembodied technological device. In the end, only the telephone itself still exists for them, but it is not enough. They cling ever more tightly to it and I think this is how an audience maintain sympathy for each character.

Who has not waited for a former lover to call, overcome by such intense despair that living on seems impossible?

This show explores the role technology plays in our relationships. What do you hope audiences will question about their own relationship to technology?

It’s Still Her Voice expresses some of the desperate loneliness with a simmering intensity that certainty feels true to the kinds of apartness that the pandemic forced upon us. What surprises is how well the technological panic and bewilderment that Cocteau observed in the telephonic age of 1920s maps onto the digital landscape of today. We still fling our profound feelings plaintively down fragile wires, although now they arrive illustrated with contorted cartoon faces in addition to fading, fragmenting voices. 

When Cocteau first wrote La Voix Humaine in 1928, few artists had shown how modern technology that supposedly brings people together may also push them apart. In 1958, Poulenc still lived in that world of crackling lines, faulty connections and inscrutable, disembodied operators. His score cunningly finds musical equivalents for the stop-go alternation of worry and relief, anger and gratitude, baffled silence and cross-talking clamour, that life-changing calls used to entail. 

Strangely, to revisit these technical glitches, hold-ups and breakdowns in 2022 is to be reminded not how much has changed but how much stays the same. The chopped or twisted faces and voices on a flawed Zoom may still provoke a distress that massively aggravates the anxiety of remote communication. After two years in which millions have had to depend on these cracked digital vessels for any contact with loved ones, It’s Still Her Voice feels rawly relevant.

Rehearsals for Its Still Her Voice

What has the rehearsal process been like for you and your team?

Fast, focused, and furious! Extremely collaborative.

Why are you excited about presenting this work?

It’s the first outing of an idea. We have an audience. I love the vibe of The Flying Nun and hope we are worthy of the opportunity, which I don’t take for granted after the craziness of the last two years! But I think I can safely say that in their solitary splendour, Karina Bailey (soprano), Pollyanna Nowicki (actor) and Antonio Fernandez (music director) are making a touching and eerie production that both marks our time of agonising separations, and seeks to supply an antidote to it.

Tickets are still available to It's Still Her Voice, Friday 4th and Saturday 5th March!
Book tickets here.  

Image: Karina Bailey in rehearsal for It's Still Her Voice, image courtesy of Kate Gaul.