The Paradis Files
You may never have heard of Maria Theresia von Paradis but if you watched Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding you will certainly be familiar with what is believed to be her composition for the cello of ‘Sicilienne’.
Directed by Jenny Sealey with music provided by the composer Errollyn Wallen, The Paradis Files charts the later life of Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824). Maria Theresia was an Austrian composer, pianist and singer known as ‘The Blind Enchantress’ due to her losing her sight during childhood.
The piece is presented by the Graeae theatre company who are renowned for promoting deaf, disabled and neurodivergent talent and whose casting reflects those disabilities.
The plot centres around Maria Theresia’s family relationships, especially that of her cruel mother who forced her to subject herself to many painful and ultimately futile treatments in order to cure her of her blindness.
The role of Maria Theresia is played by Bethan Langford, who herself is visually impaired and was encouraged by Jenny Sealey to act out her character of Paradis through her own experience of having limited sight. Also of note was Hilde, The Baroness von Paradis played by Maureen Brathwaite and Salieri played by Ben Thapa.
As Sealey says ‘it is opera like it has never been done before’.
There is a chemistry between the six characters who interact well, both with each other and alongside the imaginative set designed by Bernadette Roberts. In the space of just over an hour they are all able to portray their lives and experiences. A little more depth wouldn’t have gone amiss re the emotional impact of their individual experiences but there was sufficient for the audience to be able to surmise….
Be warned, there are references to distressing issues including sexual abuse, physical violence, baby loss, bereavement and ableism. So be prepared!
The score is upbeat, and with the support of members from the BBC Concert Orchestra, it flits in style from piano exercises to an English music hall to a cappella ensemble, whilst on the way giving a passing nod to a Mozart Piano Concerto.
In a further acknowledgement towards accessibility, the performance is signed throughout by two performance interpreters in the shape of Chandu Gopalakrishnan and Max Marchewicz. An entirely appropriate and neat touch.
The Paradis Files pushes the boundaries of accessibility and inclusion and certainly breaks new ground in terms of the disability representation of the genre. As Sealey says ‘it is opera like it has never been done before’.
The Crucible Theatre Sheffield until 12th May