Aldeburgh Festival: Elephant and Castle

Opera, theatre, film, music, sound, vision, words, architecture, voices - all elements of the amazing Elephant and Castle experience at Snape Maltings.It would be easy to throw out the same number of adjectives to describe this promenade performance but to summarise, in the words of one its young characters, it was “wicked”.

Aldeburgh Festival, Elephant and Castle, Snape Maltings, June 21 and 22

Opera, theatre, film, music, sound, vision, words, architecture, voices - all elements of the amazing Elephant and Castle experience at Snape Maltings.

It would be easy to throw out the same number of adjectives to describe this promenade performance but to summarise, in the words of one its young characters, it was “wicked”.

The good-sized audience would have arrived for this production without too much idea of what to expect, which was half the fun.


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It was multi-media but although there was so much to see and hear it was formally structured within the framework of an urban fairy tale set against the backdrop of a rural idyll.

Hansel and Gretel's mum has gives them a hard time so they run off to the Sixties edifice that is the Elephant and Castle shopping mall, in London, lured by its name and the promise of undiscovered pleasures.

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Their father comes home, finds they are gone and, frantic with worry, sets out to find them - imagining the worst.

We follow the children's journey into the vast, frightening but exciting concrete jungle and share their father's increasing desperation and sorrow.

Singers Richard Morris, Jo Risebero, Rachel Nicholls, Bibi Heal and Martin Hyder were clearly enjoying the music and the acting, all giving excellent performances and the instrumentalists in their, pixie-pointed hoodies, also relished their central role.

A vast army of artists came together to create and perform this Aldeburgh Productions-commissioned piece.

Designer Pippa Nissen whose outdoor and indoor constructions brought us the essence of a Sixties brave-new-world, now decisively rejected; writer and poet Blake Morrison whose evocative words brought us the fear of losing a child; director Tim Hopkins who assembled the component parts of the opera to bring us the whole; celebrated composer Tansy Davies whose tender aria, the father's lament, was one of the musical highlights of the evening; acclaimed composer Mira Calix, whose electronically-produced sounds were a soundtrack to the Elephant and Castle architecture with claustrophic throbbings and jangling traffic noises.

Their structure was enhanced by the lighting, live camera work, thematic images and even the way the audience was marshalled as it moved from place to place.

The final, magical scene, saw the reeds dotted with lights and a Beatles tribute band rendered All You Need is Love a final tribute to the lost innocence of urban architecture. The family is happily reunited and an explosive firework lit the sky in a glorious finale.

Some of the scenes did not come off as well as planned. The brightness of the evening made the first scene - a documentary with words projected on to massive screen - difficult to see but it would be churlish to complain when this whole fabulous project was so superbly accomplished.

Loved it. What a shame there were just two performances.

Lynne Mortimer

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