The Fairy Queen

Reviewer's rating

For their final production of the season, the one in which they give a platform for up-and-coming young talent, Longborough Festival Opera has created a vital, intelligent and completely successful production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. Instead of masques we have high jinks and contemporary vaudeville; instead of the courtly extravagances of 1692 we have very modern, funky and updated spectacle. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was originally adapted by Purcell for a theatrical event that included bursts of song and music to amplify emotions, comment on the drama before your eyes and to inspire a gaudy evening of visual delights. That is precisely what Polly Graham has achieved with her very modern approach to the material.

The cast is uniformly appealing and, ultimately, quite sexy too. The Hermia of Eleanor Broomfield and the Helena of Annie Reilly are delightful actresses as well as singers and are well matched in terms of look and height to the requirements of the text. The acting of the big confrontation is hilarious. The Lysander of Peter Edge and the Demetrius of Luke Horner are acted convincingly and sung stylishly with Peter Edge doing a fine singing and acting introduction to the evening before the show starts. Rachel Speirs and Lars Fischer are doubly convincing as Hippolyta/Titania and Theseus/Oberon and have touching moments both musically and dramatically.

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Set in Athens and then a fairy world in a magical forest (nowadays under threat from global warming) to which the lovers flee and where sprites drive them crazy but make everything work out in the end, this Elizabethan romcom is updated visually to the present day and so also takes into consideration what is going on in and around Athens these days. Thus the production cleverly starts with a lecture from a young but stuffy Climate Denier who is interrupted by a troupe of young people carrying placards and shouting about climate change. This theme appears from time to time and sets the tone of exuberance, defiance and cheekiness. The troupe of singing actors and instrumentalists mingle on and off stage causing many fine surprises through. The energy never fails, not even in the quieter or more musically gorgeous moments.

Musically this is a performance to convince even someone frightened of Baroque music that it is accessible, sonorous and totally worth exploring. The band of instrumentalists play a range of original instruments (or facsimiles thereof); they are dexterous, musically charming and unfailingly a pleasure to the ears. I was especially struck by the sound of the trumpet and its use by Purcell.  I have nothing but praise for every single musician involved and especially for the co-music directors Harry Sever and Naomi Burrell.  The band was irrepressible and vital both in the pit and on the stage.

Polly Graham has directed a stunning performance and got a great deal out of every single person involved. The costume and set design by the talented Nate Gibson made me think of a scruffy Greek bodega with its glittering curtain strips and stairs and the funky costumes were all perfect examples of mood and theme enhancement of the approach. I especially noted the costume switches from the court to the countryside, from the human beings to the fairies.

The mechanicals were well-conceived, acted and sung. George Robarts deserves special praise for his lanky, delightful Bottom; and I was captivated by the voice of Suzie Purkis in all her roles.

Like the majority of productions mounted by Longborough Festival Opera, this is entertaining and provocative theatre at its most imaginative. I strongly recommend you try to see this production. For me, this Fairy Queen is triumphant.