Aci, Galathea e Polifemo
Olga Neuwirth’s Lost Highway, which was first performed in October 2003 in Graz, gets its first UK outing at the Young Vic in a production by ENO. It is impossible to imagine it being better done, and the roar of applause which greeted it at the end of its unbroken 90 minutes was, I hope, mainly evoked by the perfection of the execution. So many things could have gone wrong, and none of them did. The set consists of a black strip reaching from one side of the auditorium to the other, wide enough to cope with a car, as it does; and above it a large Plexiglass cube, containing a spiral staircase which is lowered for the characters to descend to the lost highway, or raised so other characters can intrude. There are four huge screens on which moving images, sometimes the same, sometimes not, are displayed throughout. The orchestra plays high on one side, and there is all the apparatus of electronic amplification. There is always something to look at, and a great deal — in purely quantitative terms — to hear. Thanks to this elaborate and flawless production, I wasn’t bored, as I had been, hideously, by the movie.
It is, of course, a cult movie, and has many of that genre’s crucial elements: the audience is underinformed throughout about who the characters are, what their motives might be, and why one should take the least interest in them; dialogue is sparse and inconsequential; the most bizarre happenings are left wholly unexplained; the ending is no ending at all, just carrying on along that lost highway, which is a metaphor for…