<< -- 2 -- Mike Wheeler PASSIONATE SYMPATHY
The ambivalence of the other female characters was effectively conveyed. Yvonne Howard's Auntie is hard-bitten in public, good-hearted in private; Amy Freston and Claire Booth's Nieces were a pair of air-headed bimbos who nevertheless join Auntie and Ellen to make the quartet at the end of Act 2 scene 1 a touching display of sisterly solidarity in the face of rampant male egos.
The ease with which this gallery of strongly contrasted individuals became a lynch-mob was one of the production's most chilling aspects. As the manhunt is organised at the end of Act 3 scene 1 the chorus of hatred reaches a grim climax when an effigy of Grimes is viciously attacked and dismembered, the two Nieces leading the way.
The bare, three-walled set both gives considerable scope for movement and emphasises Grimes's isolation as he grieves over John's dead body at the start of the final scene. A huge net, suspended mid-stage In Act 1 and again at the end of Act 3, provides a space inside which the townspeople range themselves when Grimes tries to bring his boat ashore in Act 1, when reacting to Ellen's offer to accompany the new apprentice home, or faced with the approaching storm. Wooden pallet-like blocks are carried and assembled by the cast to form the public gallery of the Moot Hall, the floor space of The Boar, and a wall from behind which the townspeople challenge Ellen in Act 2 -- this is a community well-practised in erecting barriers. Grimes's hut is a tower-like structure erected during the preceding Interlude. The production's one unconvincing moment came as John, harnessed to make his fatal descent of the cliff at the end of the scene, is swung to the side of the stage.
Singing, both solo and choral, and orchestral playing are both uniformly excellent, with conductor Richard Farnes judging the dramatic pace to a nicety.
Copyright © 23 November 2006
Mike Wheeler, Derby UK
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'PETER GRIMES' AT COVENT GARDEN