Review: The Fairy Queen, English Touring Opera, Snape, November 11

Purcell’s ‘The Fairy Queen’ is not an opera in the traditional sense, rather it was composed as a series of masques to accompany performances of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Written towards the end of the composer’s all too short life it contains some of his most inventive and haunting music. It was an inspired idea of the production team, particularly designer Roger Butlin (who sadly died in August) to use the personality and paintings of Richard Dadd as a central thread. The prison-like setting of the Bedlam mental hospital was suggested by the bars of upturned beds and the making and unmaking of them added stage interest.

The opening minutes witnessed a riveting display of gymnastic dances from James Frith and Lisa Whitemore. The audience’s attention was captured at once.

The knife-edge atmosphere slipped into chaos with a virtuoso performance from Aidan Smith as the drunken poet but things gradually calmed down and some elegant interplay between the nurses created sparks of magic in the third scene. The scene of the Sun God drew some of the best playing of the evening and in the final marriage scene the Chinese characters were manipulated with exemplary skill and precision.

Without exception the singers conveyed to the audience great understanding of the style of Purcell’s music, together with an effective telling of the story. They were supported by the newly formed Old Street Players who played with precision and stylistic accuracy under conductor Joseph McHardy.

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Although two performers were indisposed, Louise Alder (taking on a second part in conjunction with Anna Tolputt) and Peter Kirk rode nobly to the rescue and there was no discernible drop in standard. It is testimony to the cohesion and commitment of this outstanding company that despite the late challenge it delivered a thoughtful and imaginative staging of this fine work.

Gareth Jones

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