Simple joys in Noye's FluddeReview
The English National Opera have stood staunchly by their mandate “opera for all” with this production of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, a collaborative effort with the Theatre Royal Stratford East and the ENO Baylis programme which takes an active role in outreach and advocating for the accessibility of opera. Though the ENO have a long-standing tradition of performing Britten’s work dating back to the world premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945, this is the first time they have staged his short but sweet telling of the Noah’s Arc story.
Their surprise, relief, and gratitude was genuine and infectious.
As Britten originally intended, the production has been cast with mainly amateur and children performers featuring a community orchestra and choir, and a chorus made up of over 120 school children. The result was a joyous celebration to close out the ENO’s 2019 season.
The compact Theatre Royal Stratford East was a far cry from the antiquated grandeur of the ENO’s regular home, the London Coliseum, but it was a warm and welcoming space well suited to a production of this nature. There was an atmosphere of openness and generosity in the theatre and a delightfully mixed audience of young and old alike.
What a positive note to end a season on.
So strong is the ENO’s wish to bring a younger audience into the theatre, that they have launched a scheme for their 2019⁄20 season offering free tickets to under 18’s for select performances. An important aspect of accessibility in opera is not only about providing the opportunity for young people to attend performances, but also creating the space for them to enjoy, learn about, and hopefully take something away from them. ENO has clearly exemplified their thorough understanding of that through this light-hearted production.
Director Lyndsey Turner has taken a youthful approach to the story despite the dark undertones of the biblical story we all know. And though Britten’s music has a foreboding, stormy quality to it, it is also balanced out with a fair amount of humour which Turner chose to draw out in many places, most notably the seemingly unrelenting stream of animals arriving onto the arc which completely overwhelmed a frantic Noah. All of these moments are written into Britten’s incredibly descriptive score and the production did a fantastic job of responding to them.
Simplistic and child-like designs by Soutra Gilmour were enhanced by Luke Hall’s ingenious video design which was projected onto the set pieces, adding splashes of colour and interest to an otherwise grey world. The costume designs were straightforward yet effective. Each child was wearing a hat with a paper drawing of their given animal illustrated by artist and author Oliver Jeffers as well as a colour co-ordinated smock. The production design had the feel of a Quentin Blake illustration as though it was a children’s book come to life.
The cast was led by baritone Marcus Farnsworth as Noah and mezzo-soprano Louise Callinan as his wife who along with actress Suzanne Bertish in the speaking role of God, were the only adult performers on stage. They all did a wonderful job of supporting the children through the performance and giving them the space to shine.
There was a palpable feeling of euphoria when the storm finally clears and Noah and his family realise they have been spared. Their surprise, relief, and gratitude was genuine and infectious. Their love extends to the world all of the creatures around them and to the God who spared them and this turns the world into a more beautiful, kinder place to live.
It is rare to see a story so simplistic and pure performed onstage and though it was a message aimed at children, it is a great reminder for us adults as well to find a little joy in a time of such negativity and uncertainty. What a positive note to end a season on.