Review: The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak (Wattle & Daub)


OK, now you’re talking…  A chamber opera about the gruesome Tarrare, a sideshow freak and French revolutionary spy who has a compulsive hunger for almost anything placed in front of him.  Music, madness, the macabre – and of course puppets…  This was slap bang up my street and gave me plenty to chew over.

First the concept is delightfully grotesque.  Sourced from historical fact, it has all the ingredients for a great narrative; freakish behaviour, a misunderstood monster, political espionage and plenty of gory details.  Add a complex love interest, live music and an autopsy table, and you have every element for a fantastic story.  Second, the musical score and lyric were well crafted and performed.  This provided the backbone for the performance that was suitably Sondheim, yet necessarily classical.

However, as much as I wanted ‘The Depraved Appetite…’ to be absolutely flawless, I did feel that the performance was just a little frayed on occasion and could do with a trim.  A musical number felt stretched toward the end of the first half and this slowed what had hitherto been a buoyant, vigorous pace.  I also felt the score may have benefited from a couple of additional upbeat compositions, just to balance the laments and add a touch more darker humour overall.

On the whole, the puppets were well designed and fabricated. Tarrare’s desperate eyes fixed imploringly at his audience proved an effective contrast to the empty sockets of his counterparts and I felt the solution for the twins was particularly ingenious.  Yet the large 2D pieces lacked the finish of the other puppets, which was a pity.  Further, the treatment of gore, guts and bodily fluids was adequately irksome and solicited a respectable volume of ‘EWWWWWW!!!’ from the audience, yet I still wanted more from these viscera.  More texture, more wetness… Just more…!

I’m sure that as this show runs it will get better and better, there’s certainly ample to feast both the eye and the ear on.  In summary, a gruesome performance, well served up.

Go see it, I dare you!

Emma Windsor

‘The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak’ is available to book from 2016 onwards.  For more information on the show, see Wattle & Daub’s website.

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