ARTYFACTS: Day 14 - Mad Fairy Queen has weekend in Brighton

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Day 14 - Mad Fairy Queen has weekend in Brighton

Most people will never have heard of Purcell, or The Fairy Queen, but most will have heard his work; the opening bars of Pinball Wizard or the title song of A Clockwork Orange.

Only rediscovered in 1901 this 17th century work is a cut-down opera with music, singing, clowning, dancing, circus trapeze artists and puppetry. These 'festive' pieces are very difficult to adapt for a modern audience but this was a brave attempt, setting the whole piece in an asylum with four patients, psychiatrists and nurses.

A lonely patient shuffles on at the start, the audience laugh when the 'asylum' theme is revealed, then a second patient pisses against the side of the stage, falls off the stage, climbs into a box and is chased by a nurse through the middle of the stalls, clambering over the audience. This was wonderful. Meanwhile, the music, played on period instruments, was quietly entrancing.

What didn't work so well were the circus artists who seemed a little tame. If you're going to have trapeze, there needs to be a sense of danger and there's no room on a stage of this size for anything remotely dangerous. But other entertainments, especially the puppets, were very good. Wisely avoiding some of the duller aspects of puppetry, they played the ventriloquist card, and played it well. It's astonishing how quickly we succumb to the suspension of disbelief with ventriloquism, even when we can see the singers lips move and the fully lit people operating the puppets. I wonder if this could have been improved with a more serious attempt at masking the mechanics of the puppetry. This is, after all, a masque. I would also have loved to have seen this performed in the Pavilion. These masques were originally 'court' entertainment and cry out for some context and intimacy.

"The perfect introduction to opera for a new generation of theatre and music lovers" said the website - well the average age was certainly over 50 and probably nearer 60. Not quite, but who cares, we oldies had a good time.

3 stars


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taking the "introduction to opera" line to heart, I took along my two teenagers - 14 and 16 - who had never been to an opera before (though both are very theatre literate) and they loved it. The only thing that spoilt it was the rather sniffy looks they got from the old boys sitting behind us - as though it were a crime to be young and a bit ungainly..

12:09 pm  

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