thu 13/06/2024

Noye's Fludde, ENO/Theatre Royal Stratford East review - two-dimensional music theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Noye's Fludde, ENO/Theatre Royal Stratford East review - two-dimensional music theatre

Noye's Fludde, ENO/Theatre Royal Stratford East review - two-dimensional music theatre

Kudos to all the performers, but the audience doesn't get Britten's whole story

All aboard behind the proscenium archAll images by Marc Brenner

Benjamin Britten's musical mystery tour is still bringing young communities together to work with professionals at the highest level 61 years on from its premiere in a Suffolk church, and Lyndsey Turner's sweet production at Stratford must have been as much fun to be in as any.

But Britten also had special concerns about communication, speaking eloquently about a "magic triangle" of three equal points - the work, the performers and the audience. Confine much of Noye's Fludde behind a proscenium arch in an intimate theatre, and you immediately introduce the element of Them and Us. Place the players on a cloud drifting to the back of the stage and you lose another dimension: the composer of The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra would have been horrified that the audience could barely see the musicians or work out the mix of young and older.

Marcus Farnsworth as Britten's NoahOnce conductor Martin Fitzpatrick had done his schooling of Us in the hymns Britten encourages the "congregation" to join, he was up in that cloud, powerless to get much sound from an orchestra that far back, though there clearly wasn't the ideal punch this piece needs. Ever-engaging baritone Marcus Farnsworth (pictured right), the best of Noahs, was the strongest of presences for the children to react to, up to a point; but you can only imagine what former ENO Music Director Mark Wigglesworth would have done to galvanise all involved. He would have to have been centre stage, as conductors usually are when Noye's Fludde is performed in a church or cathedral space.

With his departure there's been no centrifugal force at ENO, just a string of productions of varying quality and not enough thought going into where else to perform once the Coliseum becomes a show theatre in the late spring and summer months. Hurrah to the Theatre Royal Stratford East for embracing the collaboration, but this wasn't the right piece to put in it. When you're involving 120 school children, you don't cram them on to that small stage. There was ingenuity in designer Soutra Gilmour's flatpack ark and Luke Halls' video rainbow, but we also needed to see the youth in the orchestra - I couldn't see there were young people in it until the curtain-calls - and witness the fun of the mugs-on-a-line being struck when the rain starts falling. You could just about see the handbell ringers doing their stuff for the rainbow, but nothing was as present for the listeners as it should have been. Scene from Noye's FluddeThat said, all performers gave their best. It was a pleasure to hear distinctive new mezzo on the block Louise Callinan as a Mrs Noah whose wifey stroppiness had to be played down to a certain extent, and a masterstroke to have God so eloquently declaimed by Suzanne Bertish - how much water has risen around the ark since I saw her as Ophelia to Derek Jacobi's Hamlet in 1977, a revelationary Shakespeare experience. Wonderful solo voices, too, for the children and their spouses, though a bit of discreet miking might not have gone amiss to help with the words. The ballets Britten provides for the Raven and the Dove were winsomely done. The rest of the "animals" got a lot of hearty laughs, and came into their own with lusty "Alleluias" towards the colourful ending, which moved out beyond the confines a bit (pictured above). Good, too, that children of (presumably) so many faiths could be persuaded to perform in an ostensibly Anglican but profoundly boundary-breaking ritual. But my eyes remained dry, uniquely in this wonderful work. Right attitude, wrong venue.

We also needed to see the youth in the orchestra and witness the fun of the mugs-on-a-line being struck when the rain starts falling


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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