Wednesday 1st November
Anthony Burgess Foundation Arts Centre
We arrived at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation Arts Centre as part of a small, eclectic crowd. I overheard a couple discussing previous performances which is always a reassuring start because they enjoyed it enough to come back. The venue was small and intimate, bare brick and exposed pipework within a building housing history about its namesake. As I took my seat, I have to say, my preconceptions of operatic performances have been banished; no grand theatre, no imposing stage and not a black tie in sight! Whilst I appreciate that the history of opera is important, surely finding a way to keep it alive supersedes this. In an interview with the Mumble, Clementine Lovell said that the team wanted to ‘take opera to places where you wouldn’t normally find it’ and to use the setting to get people ‘to give it a go’. I think Pop-Up Opera should be proud because before the performance started I was already willing to embrace the art, as were the people popping in on the off chance there was a spare ticket. I recommend buying a programme, by the way, not only because it financially supports Pop-Up Opera, but because it provides a useful synopsis, a few German words and information on the backgrounds of the cast and crew that I think sheds light on their reasons for working with Pop-Up Opera.
The room held around 50 people, so everyone was close enough when the Hansel & Gretal began. If I had to find a negative, I’d say that the lack of tiered seating at this venue made it a touch difficult to see scenes that unfolded at floor level, but that’s a minor downside to this improvised environment. Minutes into the performance I and many others were laughing out loud at the invaluable yet unobtrusive captions that accompanied the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel. It was not surprising to learn that these had been created by the accomplished comedian Harry Percival; they were short, humorous and provided a simple modern narrative to an opera in its 125th year, complementing the performance, rather than detracting.
Polly Leach (Hansel) instantly stole the show for me. Polly played the part with such ease, clearly comfortable with the German language. She put on a great show being cheeky Hansel whilst demonstrating the skills she has developed over her many years of committed studies leading to her recent graduation from the RCM. When Ailsa Mainwaring appears as mother she is free from inhibition and performs one of the best stage rollickings I’ve seen! Throughout the performance, Berrak Dyer plays the piano beautifully, leaving me in awe. She was flawless and distracting in only the right places. Before I knew it, the interval had arrived and I was delighted to hear that other audience members were as enthralled as I was. I didn’t take much note of the set until Act III. You need your imagination around the versatility of a mop and I have to say I never thought I’d see a floating hot dog on the stage of an Opera!
The applause at the end of the show was well deserved and didn’t seem enough somehow. In summary, I admit a little apprehension towards visiting the opera, this unease was exasperated when a colleague told me the performance was perfect for ‘someone like me’. I admit that this comment irked me a little, I mean, I’m open minded and I am no stranger to art in its varying forms – but ‘someone like me???‘ He was right, I am the target audience, not the particularly stuffy, overeducated older person (sorry!) that we relate to opera goers but good old Northern girl, Aimee. Like a good journalist I did my research before my visit. I learnt about aria, soprano, the use of language etc but you know what? I don’t need that level of knowledge. I am a beginner, I was the target audience. It isn’t often I can honestly say this, but this is one of the best things I’ve seen. To quote one of the final captions Clementine and the team ‘nailed it’.
Reviewer : Aimee Hewitt