Review: Music Theatre Wales’ Denis & Katya, The Riverfront, Newport

Given its subject matter, its unsurprising that Denis & Katya; a co-production between Music Theatre Wales, Opera Philadelphia and Opéra Orchestre National Montpellier, played to a strong audience that spanned the generations at its Riverfront Theatre premiere on Thursday evening.

The documentary opera follows the true story of two 15 year old Russian teenagers Denis Muravyov and Katya Viasova who made headlines in November 2016 after they lived their final hours through the eyes of social media, engaging with their on-line viewers as they filmed while in the midst of a standoff with Russian Special Forces.

With haunting music provided by London Sinfonietta cellists, the minimalistic designed production features Australian mezzo soprano Emily Edmonds and English baritone Johnny Herford assuming the roles of several eyewitnesses. As the pair deliver viewpoints from a journalist, doctor, friends and teachers, Pierre Martin’s video design backdrop accompanied by a frantic computerised bleeping illustrates the scrutiny, fascination and unhinged trolling of the world’s social media.

Denis & Katya are never visibly portrayed throughout the production, although their presence is undoubtedly felt. Edmonds and Herford’s stage magnetism via sensitively handled character portrayals with baritone and soprano delivery keep the hook on the storyline, as do the pairs own individual storytelling qualities. The London Sinfonietta add the dramatic element, occasionally appearing to supply sound effects from gunshots to door slams.

It soon becomes apparent that the production is more about how human nature rightly or wrongly digests and interacts with a breaking news story. While the ongoing scenario of a police standoff is a horrific spectacle, the responses from the worlds social media platforms make equally uncomfortable analysis. Denis & Katya composer Philip Venables and writer-director Ted Huffman, leave no response unturned and even appear to put their own initial words and thoughts undo the microscope, giving an insight into the nucleus of the creation of the opera.

A production that challenges our thoughts on social media and how we react to it, Denis & Katya is food for thought and warrants 70 minutes of any theatre-goers time as it tours venues the coming weeks.