Magazine article Musical Opinion

Albert Herring - 2

Magazine article Musical Opinion

Albert Herring - 2

Article excerpt

Opera North created a mainstage production of Albert Herring in 2002, and one assumes it could have been revived, but for this 'prelude' to their Festival of Britten later this year they offered an in-the-round presentation in the 300-seat Howard Assembly Room (part of the Grand Theatre) in Leeds. Like their recent mainstage Joshua, it didn't tour.

It's a good work for a small venue, with economic, chamber-orchestra score and no chorus. The Assembly Room is not actually round, so with the audience on two long sides and around the entrance (the orchestra at the far end), director Giles Havergal had to keep singers on the move up and down the set and avoid anyone having to look at their backs for too long (an important factor, as the room's acoustic does not provide the kind of audibility that a real in-the-round theatre space does). He and movement director Tim Claydon created visual complements to the fugal ensembles (though the more static presentation of the Threnody in Act Three carried more impact, and some bits of mobile business were silly). Intimacy brings dividends, too - you could smell the fruit, and some of the audience felt themselves so much a part of the fête they tried to applaud every worthy speech.

Albert is above all a gentle dig at the pomposities and absurdities of English small-town life (the idea that you can read a gay sub-text seems a bit stretched to me), and this production's actors brought its characters to life. Josephine Barstow was back as Lady Billows (as under Phyllida Lloyd's direction in 2002), and Elizabeth Sikora her perfect foil as Florence Pike. …

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