An Engaging Production of Noye’s Fludde Offers Considerably More Than the Sum of its Parts

05/07/2019

Britten, Noye’s Fludde: Soloists, Children from Brampton Primary School and Churchfields Junior School, Community Choir, Orchestra of the English National Opera and other musicians / Martin Fitzpatrick (conductor). Theatre Royal Stratford East, London, 3.7.2019. (MB)

Noye’s Fludde (c) Marc Brenner

Production:
Director – Lyndsey Turner
Designs – Soutra Gilmour
Lighting – Oliver Fenwick
Video – Luke Halls
Choreography – Wayne McGregor
Movement – Lynne Page
Assistant director – Eva Sampson

Cast:
God – Suzanne Bertish
Mrs Noah – Louise Callinan
Mr Noah – Marcus Farnsworth

First and foremost, the young – in certain cases, less young – performers in this Britten collaboration between ENO and Theatre Royal Stratford East gave all that they had. They will have learned a great deal from the experience: not only in a specifically ‘musical’ sense, but about cooperation, collaboration, being part of something bigger than themselves. They relished their moments on stage and in the orchestra, supported by professional performers; so too, very clearly, did friends, families, and other supporters, not least a wonderfully appreciative child seated not so far from me. Solo spots were often beautifully done, one boy treble in particular. (Alas, I cannot credit the child performers, since all parts were doubled, and I have no indication who was performing on which night.) Some may go on to study and to make music; most will probably not. Many, however, will in other ways recall and build on this experience of community opera. There are lessons social, political, theological, artistic to be learned here, as much by the audience as those on stage. Let us hope that they will be – just as they were in the ‘original’ Chester mystery plays.

Lyndsey Turner’s – and her team’s – production told the story of Noye’s Fludde clearly, directly, and colourfully. I was initially a little surprised to see God begin to divest Herself of Her clothing at the close, but shall not spoil the surprise. The final rainbow could not help but make a point beyond Noah’s tale. Soutra Gilmour’s designs were very much part and parcel of this, likewise Wayne McGregor’s choreography for the raven and dove. Once again, all was considerably more than the sum of its parts, albeit with no disrespect to often considerable parts. It proved a welcome touch to have the Old Testament God as a woman, in a (spoken) performance both declamatory and humane from Suzanne Bertish. Marcus Farnsworth and Louise Callinan proved decidedly luxury casting as Mr and Mrs Noah, rightly taking – and showing – just as much care as they would have done onstage at the Coliseum. The placing of the orchestra was not ideal: on a platform above the stage action, much potential immediacy was lost, at least initially. One’s ears almost always adjust, though; Britten’s construction soon began to take meaningful dramatic and musical shape, after a fashion surely perceptible to all. I can imagine the work having been conducted more incisively than by Martin Fitzpatrick, but his priorities doubtless lay elsewhere in challenging yet rewarding coordination of such varied forces. The hymn sections with which we all joined in imparted enough sense of observance to remind us of the truer purpose of Noye’s Fludde and its performance. Let us hope for more such occasions.

Mark Berry

Comments

Comments

  1. Jack Buckley says:

    Thank you for this, Mark. The combination of children’s voices and the rawness of the theatricalisation of the Chester Miracle Play was irresistible to Britten. It produced this masterpiece. He was strongly criticised at the time for his introduction of three popular hymns into the piece. But that too is part of the all-together-now of the ‘democracy’ of the Chester play. The band too (never call it an orchestra) must be made up of children as well as gifted professionals. (The four hands piano part is demanding, as is the timpani part). The kids have immense fun in composing a scale from mugs slung from a frame and being part of the percussion department. Pure ingenuity. They are used as drops of water begin to fall as a prelude to the flood.

    When I presented this at Rugeley Parish Church as Director of Music at Rugeley Grammar School I was not able to call on ENO for the adult parts. But neighbouring Lichfield Cathedral provided me with an adult bass-baritone Noah. The part of Noah (/Noye) was sung by a lead chorister from Lichfield Cathedral, who sadly had not learnt his part very well; it was the idea of Denis Brown (a maths teacher at Rugeley Grammar School and in charge of staging) to keep Colin Bell (playing 11 year old Sem, Noye’s eldest son) at the elbow of father Noye and quietly prompt him when he forgot (which was often). I cannot anymore remember the name of Noye, but I’ll never forget the name of Colin Bell, who as I said, must now be in his sixties. All this was more than half a century ago!

    The vicar of Rugeley had the perfect booming delivery for the voice of God. ‘Well all right’ he said, ‘as long as people will not think that vicars are the voice of God’. Keeping a straight face, I said I didn’t think so. It was exactly this kind of pomposity I was seeking. When I mentioned this episode to Colin Graham (stage director of the original) he said when he relayed this to Britten, Ben laughed for a week. Colin Bell must now be in his sixties. I wonder who he is quietly prompting now.

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