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Passionate Sympathy

Another take on Opera North's 'Peter Grimes',


There's a telling moment in Opera North's current production of Britten's Peter Grimes (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 14 November 2006), during the 'Sunday morning' interlude that opens Act 2. John, Grimes's new apprentice, watches forlornly while the other Borough children play ball, and is pushed away when he tries to join in. The implication that this replays a situation in Grimes's own boyhood is clear.

Seldom can Britten's passionate sympathy with outsiders have been more forcefully communicated than in this vivid staging. Jeffery Lloyd-Roberts' mesmerising central performance shows a Grimes increasingly at the end of his tether. His mood-swings in Act 2 scene 2 are deeply unsettling, his 'Great Bear and Pleiades' solo in Act 1 has an almost glacial stillness, and his final mad scene is a tour de force of vocal acting. Phyllida Lloyd's production capitalises on his commanding physical presence, frequently isolating him at the front of the stage with the townspeople of The Borough ranged menacingly round the back.

Giselle Allen's warm, lyrical Ellen Orford is in no less of a predicament than Grimes, trying to reach out to Grimes with little acts of kindness (she brings him a flask and sandwiches at one point). Her final realisation that her efforts have proved fruitless is powerfully moving.

The remaining characters are sharply characterised -- Christopher Purves' solid, dependable Balstrode, in many ways The Borough's most level-headed inhabitant; Alan Oke's seedy Bob Boles; Brian Bannatyne-Scott's Swallow trying to remain on his dignity, Ethna Robinson's mean-spirited Mrs Sedley, Paul Gibson's wide-boy Ned Keene; Nigel Robson's ineffectual Rev Horace Adams.

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Copyright © 23 November 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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