Watchmen: the Opera

We never thought we'd find ourselves saying this, but here goes: we saw Watchmen. It was OK. Bit long, bit muddled. Then we saw an opera, Dr Atomic at the London Coliseum, which addresses similar nuclear-apocalytic themes. Opera won, hands down. {C}Penny Woolcock's staging of John Adams' work about US physicist Robert Oppenheimer's attempt to build and test an atomic bomb at Los Alamos is completely riveting, not to mention beautiful.

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Like Zack Snyder's record-breaking blockbuster, Woolcock goes for maximum visual impact; white sheets pulled into peaks in the background represent mountains (and later mushroom clouded skies) in front of which two large vertical grids are angled, each divided into compartments containing - at different points - busy scientists at individual blackboards, native American doom dancers, or covered by blinds upon which darkening clouds are projected. Unlike Snyder's movie, that's not all it gives you.

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The adaptation of a Donne sonnet sung by Gerald Finlay as Oppenheimer - wrestling with the terrible majesty of the project he has undertaken - is so heart-wrenching that you only wish Billy Crudup might have been permitted to burst into song as he gets blue-ified in that tank thingy. And of course most scarily - Adams' opera is not shrouded in fantasy and allegory. It happened, folks, and we're still dealing with the consequences. www.eno.org

For a more conventional telling of Oppenheimer's compelling story, you can watch the full 2 hours of recent US documentary The Trials of J.Robert Oppenheimer for free here, with Good Night and Good Luck's David Strathairn in the title role.