House of Rufus – review

Royal Opera House

You might expect someone as shamelessly self-absorbed as Rufus Wainwright to hog every moment of his unprecedented five-night stint at the Royal Opera House. Instead, he's generously sharing the limelight with his family, devoting entire sets to his sister Martha and father Loudon. In fact, Loudon so dominates their evening together that fans of his son – who, in a two-hour performance, delivers just six songs as solo singer – could be forgiven for feeling short‑changed.

What this show loses in concentrated Rufus, however, it gains in a fascinating display of the two men's similarities and differences. Loudon is like a single, relentless glare of light: his lyrics are trenchant and unsentimental, his music plain and direct. Whereas Rufus is a gigantic mirror ball refracting that light into a multitude of stars: his lyrics are prolix, his emotions flamboyant, his music – even when it's just him on the piano – sumptuous. When Loudon sings of death, he is playful, obstreperous and apprehensive by turns. When Rufus sings, in The Tower of Learning, "I really do fear that I'm dying", he just sounds melodramatic.

They seem polar opposites, and yet, when it comes to narcissism, Rufus is clearly a chip off the old block. It's just that Rufus expresses that narcissism through extravagant gestures, while Loudon simply sings a lot of songs about himself. That's not entirely fair: Loudon also examines his relationships with his family with unflinching, even lacerating honesty – and Rufus follows suit with Dinner at Eight, his curiously inexpressive voice smudging the violence of the song. What this show subtly documents is father and son's gradual, slightly grudging, acceptance of their symbiosis, exquisitely expressed in their duet on a fierce blues song by Loudon Wainwright Jr, the patriarch who wreaked havoc on them both.


Maddy Costa

The GuardianTramp

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