Sunday, September 30, 2012

ANU SoM/The Street: Albert Herring

I was completely charmed by this production.

My feelings for Benjamin Britten vary as widely as his music does; I will confess it: I'm an old-fashioned type, and I like a nice tune. There are a few nice tunes in Albert Herring, but most of the score is post-romantic and not particularly melodic. It's nevertheless pleasing, and the facility of the (mainly) young cast in singing to the sometimes counter-intuitive orchestral score is admirable.

In the English village of Loxford, assorted worthies are assembled to recommend suitable prospects for the title of Queen of the May to the Lady (Billows) of the Manor (a fabulously horsey Rachael Thoms, embodying every Aunt in the Wodehousian canon, and sounding splendid). But her factotum, Florence Pike (Julia Wee is gender-bendingly good), has dirt on every girl in town.  And so presents the idea of a May King - blameless mother's boy Albert Herring, the greengrocer's clerk. Albert's friends Sid and Nancy (I kid you not), who must have missed the awful fate of Gussie Fink-Nottle some 13 years earlier in  "Right Ho, Jeeves"spike his drink so that he's not too nervous to speak in public, and Mayhem Ensues.

What a great choice of vehicle this is for a student production. The music is challenging, but the scale is small, and very clever direction from Caroline Stacey means that any weaknesses (and there really aren't many) are easily submerged in comedy. The small group of village worthies (stand-outs are Jessica Westcott as Miss Worthington the headmistress, and Norman Meader as the self-important mayor) is beautifully choreographed, and the three children (particular props to Laura Griffin, adorable as Emmie), zoom about the stage like giggling Pac-Men.  Imogen Keen's costumes are inspired, and there's great use of props; a simple but clever and highly utilitarian set from Gillian Schwab, and an effective lighting design from PJ Williams.

The chamber orchestra, conducted by Rick Prackhoff, is faultless - my only gripe was that they seemed very badly dressed, but this was amusingly resolved in Act Three. (Though I still think they could have scrubbed up a little better without ruining the joke).

As the eponymous hero, Robert Shearer fits the bill (or Albert) so perfectly I wondered fleetingly if this production had been tailored around him. Also deserving of mention are Rohan Thatcher as the dashing Sid, and Elora Ledger as the kind and lovely Nancy. And Krystle Innes, fresh from her star turn as 15 year old Tracey Turnblad in Hairspray, stacks on 30 years with disconcerting ease to play Albert's overbearing mother in a performance just as excellent.

I should note that I saw this production on Saturday night, and some of the roles are alternating, so I will have missed some performances that were probably noteworthy. I'm only sorry that it's been such a short run - five performances in three days. There's one more chance to catch it, tonight, and at such a ridiculously small ticket price, it's really worth the effort.

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