Before we talk fellatio, let me get the boring, snide observations out of the way. It’s great to see the ENO experimenting with space etc – exploring ‘new’ venues, going outside their comfort zone blah, blah, blah – but they really need to do better than this.

Ambika P3 is a fantastic industrial box in the middle of Marylebone (where they made the concrete to build the Westway). It’s not as undiscovered as the ENO like to think it is (it’s been around for nearly a decade) but still, good on them for finally realising it’s here.

For them to then ignore the glories that the space has to offer in its unadulterated state and plonk a theatre in it (as they did last night for their new production of Powder Her Face) is not just spatially illiterate but also madly wasteful. To compound this they programmed an opera that has no interest whatsoever in being taken on an industrial jaunt. All of which made the night feel more than a little farcical.

That said, what they did with Thomas Ades’s opera within this temporary auditorium wasn’t bad. But it also wasn’t half as good as what the Linbury Studio Theatre did with the piece a few years back.

Amanda Roocroft played the Duchess a little too seriously for me to believe she’d actually give a random bell-boy a blowie. Here she is ordering her meat, wink wink, nudge nudge:

Amanda Roocroft. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Amanda Roocroft. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

The brilliant Alan Ewing, playing several different depraved beings, lurked about with slimy intent, reminiscent of Rik Mayall’s sweaty turn in Bottom:

Alan Ewing. Photo: Richard-Hubert-Smith

Alan Ewing. Photo: Richard-Hubert-Smith

Completing the cast were the excellent Alexander Sprague and Claire Eggington, playing various prurient, jealous, chippy everyman characters:

Alexander Sprague and Claire Eggington. Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith

Alexander Sprague and Claire Eggington. Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith

Alexander Sprague. Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith

Alexander Sprague. Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith

Trying to be both realistic and theatrical, literal and symbolic, the production was a bit of a mess:

Alan Ewing and Claire Eggington. Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith

Alan Ewing and Claire Eggington. Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith

But in this I don’t think it’s helped by Philip Hensher’s libretto, which doesn’t allow us to care about anybody or anything. Ades’s constantly dissolving music, by contrast, is great.

The more I see Powder Her Face, the more I realise this nihilistic vision of a hollowed out society, a society obsessed with the sex lives of others (there’s a lot of John Major’s Britain in here), needs a bit of help. You have to confect interest either by converting the nihilism into satire, or by turning the Duchess into a spellbinding mess – a sublime goatish whore. The problem is Roocroft is about as far from a goatish whore as you could get.

Tags: Amanda Roocroft, Ambika P3, ENO, John Major, Philip Hensher, Powder Her Face, Thomas Ades