Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Three Hundred Stirring Voices and Instruments

At Mid Wales Opera

Mid Wales Opera & Partner Organisations- Noyes Fludde , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , October 21, 2011
At Mid Wales Opera by Mid Wales Opera & Partner Organisations- Noyes Fludde Participating in the arts- “the importance of taking part, not just consuming”- is by timely coincidence the subject of a passionately argued opinion piece by Lyn Gardner published on October 18th. As she was writing her article, musicians and singers from Mid-Wales Opera were already in schools at Tregaron, Comins Coch and elsewhere, assembling and rehearsing this unique piece of performance.

The fifty-strong orchestra comprises a core of professionals augmented by musicians under the aegis of Ceredigion’s Music Services. A small drummer, for instance, eleven years old started four years ago with a local samba group. Now he is a part of Benjamin Britten’s complex atmospheric music, evoking the catastrophe come upon humanity. The costs of participation at Ceredigion Music Services’ weekends at the Urdd Centre have doubled, the subsidy cut, but it still exists. This may be due in part to the traditions in West Wales. Neighbouring Powys has reportedly no music service within its education department.

Director Clare Williams opens the production with an image of imagination. In two rows of colourful deck chairs fourteen sun-worshippers bask in shorts, summery dresses and sunglasses. Each sips on an alcopop and is immersed in a copy of “OK” or “Hello”. Conductor Nicholas Cleobury enters, makes a small bow to his cast, his players and to us, the audience. The audience too is to be part of the performance.

Britten’s 1957 composition was written for amateur performance, the location specifically not to be that of theatre. In Aberystwyth the Great Hall is the venue. After the singing practice- the audience is to sing against, rather than with, the orchestra- the action opens with the entry from the Hall’s rear of a procession of loud demonstrators. They have the placards, the t-shirts and peace symbols of protest. They are to come up against the complacent, hedonistic sun-baskers, amongst them Ann Atkinson’s Mrs Noye.

Meanwhile Charles Johnston’s Noye in his stripey t-shirt, hears the word and dons a white construction helmet. Five helpers in life jackets set to build the ark and orchestrate the huge numbers of animals who are to be saved. Twelve dancers represent the restless white froth of the waves.

At the peak of its action the ark rolls and pitches in the flood, the orchestra plays Britten’s storm-evoking music, and cast and audience sing alike. The onstage singers, in the main below the age of ten, by this point number two hundred and forty. The combined sound is colossal, the effect deeply emotive.

Clare Williams brings many a small touch of wit to the production. The price of umbrellas doubles as the rains approach. The physical loading of the animals on the ark is accompanied by onscreen animation. The drawings are by children. Each creature has its distinct movement brought to life by animator Ben Davis. A chimpanzee grins, a cat trots along with a look of self-satisfaction, squirrels hop, a peacock opens his plume of feathers.

“Noye’s Fludde” has as complex an origin as any large-scale piece. The Colwinston Trust and Maint Cymru are funders alongside the Lottery and ACW. Amy Doughty from Ballet Cymru does the choreography for the dancing raven and dove that Noye sends out to test for dry land. The deck chairs are courtesy of John Lewis.

The next appearance of “Noye’s Fludde” is at Theatr Brycheiniog late November, then Neath, Treorchy and Newtown in 2012. The emotional heart is the survival of the natural world, koala bear, giraffe and dozens of others. It is evoked with a simple gesture that is profound and moving. But “Noye’s Fludde” is more than just moving. All these voices, that have come together, sing “I may eternal brightness see and share thy joy at last.” Joy is shared indeed. In these grey days “Noye’s Fludde” is the best corrective; it brims over with hope


Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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