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THIS collaboration between English National Opera and Theatre Royal Stratford East, with Lyndsey Turner directing, has a magnificent cast of both professional and amateur performers and musicians who bring Benjamin Britten’s opera vibrantly to life.
The cast includes 60 children from two local primary schools who, thanks to simple but effective outfits by Oliver Jeffers, make up a colourful menagerie.
Intended as a sort of pop-up opera, to be performed in church halls and community centres on a shoe-string budget with ample audience participation, its simplicity — reflected in a clever set design from Soutra Gilmour — remains true to Britten’s ideals.
And there’s a crash course in hymn singing from conductor Martin Fitzpatrick — including, of course, Eternal Father, Strong to Save, with its apposite lyrics “for those in peril on the sea.”
The narrative development is of course well-known — the waves come and the ark is afloat before a raven and a dove are sent to seek dry land.
Noah (Marcus Farnworth), along with his wife (Louise Callinan) and sons all put in strong performances, while Suzanne Bertish as God herself lends the production an elegant gravitas.
But the animals undoubtedly steal the show. They march towards the stage from left and right chanting Kyrie, Eleison (“Lord, have mercy”) and duly fill the ark with a chirping, mooing and roaring abandon.
There are amusing little touches too, with Noah giving arm-bands to an apprehensive moose and a tortoise who almost, literally, misses the boat.
Notwithstanding the rather unsavoury theological implications of such drastic water-based action, at just over an hour and with much colour and sound, this production is ideal for children and adults alike.
Runs until July 13, box office: stratfordeast.com
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