Friday, 5 July 2019

Noye's Fludde, English National Opera, 3 July 2019

Theatre Royal Stratford East, London

God – Suzanne Bertish
Mrs Noah – Louise Callinan
Mr Noah – Marcus Farnsworth

Lyndsey Turner (director)
Soutra Gilmour (designs)
Oliver Fenwick (lighting)
Luke Halls (video)
Lynne Page (movement)
Wayne McGregor (choreography)
Eva Sampson (assistant director)

Children from Brampton Primary School and Churchfields Junior School
Community Choir
Orchestra of the English National Opera and other musicians
Martin Fitzpatrick (conductor)

First and foremost, the young – in certain cases, less young – performers in this Britten collaboration between ENO and Theatre Royal Stratford East gave all that they had. They will have learned a great deal from the experience: not only in a specifically ‘musical’ sense, but about cooperation, collaboration, being part of something bigger than themselves. They relished their moments on stage and in the orchestra, supported by professional performers; so too, very clearly, did friends, families, and other supporters, not least a wonderfully appreciative child seated not so far from me. Solo spots were often beautifully done, one boy treble in particular. (Alas, I cannot credit the child performers, since all parts were doubled, and I have no indication who was performing on which night.) Some may go on to study and to make music; most will probably not. Many, however, will in other ways recall and build on this experience of community opera. There are lessons social, political, theological, artistic to be learned here, as much by the audience as those on stage. Let us hope that they will be – just as they were in the ‘original’ Chester mystery plays.

Lyndsey Turner’s – and her team’s – production told the story of Noye’s Fludde clearly, directly, and colourfully. I was initially a little surprised to see God begin to divest Herself of Her clothing at the close, but shall not spoil the surprise. The final rainbow could not help but make a point beyond Noah’s tale. Soutra Gilmour’s designs were very much part and parcel of this, likewise Wayne McGregor’s choreography for the raven and dove. Once again, all was considerably more than the sum of its parts, albeit with no disrespect to often considerable parts. It proved a welcome touch to have the Old Testament God as a woman, in a (spoken) performance both declamatory and humane from Suzanne Bertish. Marcus Farnsworth and Louise Callinan proved decidedly luxury casting as Mr and Mrs Noah, rightly taking – and showing – just as much care as they would have done onstage at the Coliseum. The placing of the orchestra was not ideal: on a platform above the stage action, much potential immediacy was lost, at least initially. One’s ears almost always adjust, though; Britten’s construction soon began to take meaningful dramatic and musical shape, after a fashion surely perceptible to all. I can imagine the work having been conducted more incisively than by Martin Fitzpatrick, but his priorities doubtless lay elsewhere in challenging yet rewarding coordination of such varied forces. The hymn sections with which we all joined in imparted enough sense of observance to remind us of the truer purpose of Noye’s Fludde and its performance. Let us hope for more such occasions.