Review: The Paradis Files (Graeae, online)

Following a successful stage run earlier in the year, Graeae (a disability-led theatre group) have now made The Paradis Files available online as part of a trio of digital productions.

This is a chamber opera composed by Errollyn Wallen with some beautiful singing but a rather convoluted plot. It is the story of Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824), a blind composer, singer and pianist, feted in her day by major and minor luminaries alike.

Librettists Nicola Werenowska and Selina Mills address moments in Theresia’s life, whether childhood, career or cures. It is about celebration in all forms, for performers, creative team, and subject.

Production photo for The Paradis Files

As director Jenny Sealey and co-librettist Mills, explain in an accompanying featurette available on Graeae’s YouTube, this is a story of a forgotten woman, mother and composer, who has ended up being defined by attempts to cure her blindness.

Theresia is played by Bethan Langford, a soprano with a visual impairment – the role was written for her and she runs with it, bringing a strong emotional core to the piece.

There is also a quartet of Gossips who comment and re-enact Theresia’s memories, like the old Chorus roles of Greek theatre, as well as playing other roles while Maureen Brathwaite (Baroness) is the other main performer, equally at home here

Production image from The Paradis Files

Captioned and signed in BSL for complete inclusivity, Thr Paradis Files has the BBC Concert Orchestra and pianist Jelena Makarova to bring Wallen’s music to life.

It’s great to see not just performers with disabilities and neurodiversiry, but also trans and non-binary actors within this show. It isn’t about theatre as statenent, it just ‘is’ at the core of Graeae’s mission.

In 70 minutes theee is a lot to cover in terms of ambitious plot, music and staging. If it doesn’t all quite come together or you find some moments confusing, use the show as a point with which to explore Theresia’s story further.

You can stream The Paradis Files until 30 November, either on its own or in a package with 10 Nights and Kerbs as part of Graeae’s Film Festival for Disability History Month. Tickets here.

***.5

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