Review: Noyes Fludde at Blackheath Halls

This performance could have passed me by if it wasn't for a tweeted picture taken by the Community and Engagement Manager at Blackheath Halls on the day of the first performance. Blackheath is a 10-minute walk away from where I live and work. I'm glad I got a chance to see the production too.

This was an emotional performance that touched all the necessary nerves, lanced boils, and triggered the tear ducts. Director Harry Fehr's work on Benjamin Britten's much-loved children's oratorio demonstrated inventiveness and ingenuity.

Bright bold coloured costumes and big scale props made good use of the spacious interior of the hall which, combined with a performance area surrounded by orchestra and audience on raked seating, created a immersive community feel.

In this way design, lighting and direction elevated Britten's work. Sometimes the clunky naivity of Britten's stark scoring combined with approximated singing can make for a disconnected experience for the audience. But not here. Music was all around us, youngsters mingled with adults to create a highly descriptive piece of storytelling. 

There were times when the orchestra swamped the mid-ranges of the semi-chorus, especially the mid-range solos where undeveloped voices struggled to be heard. But in these cases it was the sentiment conveyed by non-verbal communication that carried everybody through.

Michael Sumuel used his rich bass tones to great effect, filling the interior without dominating the mix. His was an inclusive performance, so too Jessica Walker voicing God. The Gossips – six decadent characters coordinated in sickly pink – were a hoot.  

What really impressed me in this production was the strong connection (and the blurred lines) between amateur and professional, this in part down to the deliberate pairing of professional orchestra (Multi-Story Orchestra) with Blackheath Halls & Multi-Story Community Orchestras- neighbouring areas of London joining forces and making the world just a little bit more human for an hour or so on a warm spring day. 

The stars of the show were undoubtedly the raven and dove puppets – magical creations using bike helmets and dowling rods covered in shredded plastic bags that floated gently over chorus and orchestra. A big nod to Puppetry Designers Kaeridwun Eftelya and Stephanie Elgersma for their work here.

I've found the world demanding, hostile, and hugely disconcerting this week, especially today. Blackheath Halls Opera and the Multi-Story Orchestra went a long way to helping me conclude the week in a much better frame of mind. 

Britten's Noye's Fludde runs until Saturday 8 April with performances on Friday 7 at 7pm, and Saturday 8 at 2pm and 7pm, at Blackheath Halls. Tickets £12.

The picture used in this post was taken from the Twitter feed of Blackheath Opera's Artistic Director Rose Ballantyne. It has been used without permission.

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