Around the deathbed of a patient and soon to be organ donor, a chorus of musicians arrives to narrate one of the most painstaking operations in medicine, through music: the heart transplant. Meanwhile, the audience is taken step by step through every moment on a wave of sound as music and medicine collide. The heart is often the focus of drama, but never as literally as this…

Clinical terminology, about aortas, sterilization and hospital practice are strangers to the stage and yet, Pamela Carter’s libretto sung by Ruby Philogene, Jodie Landau and narrated by Alison O’ Donnell feels at home in its environment. Framed against the breathtaking score of composer Valgeir Sigurðsson, consummately performed by the Scottish Ensemble, We Are In Time explores the omnipresent nature of the heart, both in those who are dying and living. The operation is no longer a physical act, but a sensation provided by the musicians, who play to the operating table as though they were completing the act themselves.

Organ donor Jay (Jodie Landau) and organ receiver Stella (Ruby Philogene) sing beautifully throughout, voicing their fears about death, and life, and the issues that organ donation brings. Though Philogene’s voice is stunning and more synonymous with a classical ensemble, Landau’s voice ranges from precise simplicity to being unexpectedly brilliant, and truly striking while articulating the libretto. Trilling between harmonics and nestling between the violins, its ethereal quality is suitably appropriate for a character on the fringes of life and death. Alison O’Donnell’s dialogue teeters between lights and darks. At times it is as nurturing as nurse and as overwhelming as a textbook. But regardless, it is delivered with humanity, even at its most trying moments.

We Are in Time is a tremendous concept, but doesn’t always sit well, striking an unusual balance between sterility and comfort. Death, its arrangements and the passing of life and new life are dealt with so diplomatically, efficiently, and precisely that one could feel absolutely nothing. It is only until Stella’s final soaring song of triumph, sung with considerable restraint by Philogene that we realise the magnitude of transplants and their impact on those caught in waiting lists. And, even then, during this pinnacle we are brought back to earth and reminded that our hearts are merely muscles, and bound, like music, to time. Comforting? Yes, to some extent. Truly satisfying for the soul? Perhaps not.

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 3rd March 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★★