Is there any more hideous experience than traipsing through the marked pathways in IKEA, wanting desperately to break ranks and tear through the kitchen section for the exit but terrified of becoming forever lost in a jungle of tasteful Swedish furnishings? The answer is: almost certainly, but that fact is irrelevant when one is trapped in the situation. Composer Tom Lane had the dastardly idea of harnessing this dreaded feature of the interior decoration giant and putting it to good use in his latest work, Flatpack.
It’s a strange concept, but a good one. On one side you have IKEA, a levelling and unifying force in modern home decoration; on the other you have opera, an art form that is still generally regarded as ‘high-brow’. In what amounts to a cacophony of consumerism, Lane brings these disparate items together in a work that is part Sunday-day-trip to a furniture store, part mobile opera.
The libretto (text/words/lyrics) is composed of the jaunty names of various IKEA furniture items. The fact that one of the store’s ranges is dubbed ‘Billy’ makes for a particularly hilarious scene in which a hapless customer pleads with his uncooperative bookcase, which lies stubbornly in pieces on the living room floor, repeating the word ‘Billy’ over and over in operatic cadences.
Though the work is compositionally sophisticated (the structure based around three chords sourced from an IKEA food mixer), the lack of lyrical variation recalls a child ‘singing’ a song consisting of the same word repeated ad nauseum. This (intentional) absurdity cements the work’s light-hearted tone whilst at the same time poking fun at the notion of ‘affordable individuality’ the brand promises.
But there are darker overtones to this silliness. The second act sees the four singers separated in different (symmetrical, but ‘individualised’) rooms, inhabiting their own cocoon worlds and seeming unhappy about it. There might be a message here about the emptiness of avid consumerism alienating individuals from each other. There might not. At any rate, the concluding vocal arrangement involving all four singers is poignantly beautiful, a baldly emotional coda to this ode to flatpacked lives.
Flatpack runs for two more days in the CHQ building – tickets available right here.
Words Rachel Donnelly