Thursday, 20 October 2016

Lost In The Stars, Highbury Opera Theatre

'It's fear. Fear of the few for the many; fear of the many for the few.'

Last night I attended the final performance of Highbury Opera Theatre's production of Lost In The Stars, Kurt Weill's final musical of 1949. It's a world away from the rasping, Brechtian sewer of the Threepenny Opera (which I saw at the National Theatre at the beginning of the month). However, for all that its language is the Rogers & Hammerstein side of Gershwin and its message given in modern, broad stroke American vernacular its still a tough story of racial division. This is, exasperatingly, a refreshed subject of current events, both here and abroad. Indeed, the grander themes of truth and mistrust are also the most contentious issues emerging from the current American presidential election campaigns. It is present.

There is no shrinking from message or music in what Highbury Opera Theatre offer. This is in no small measure because of the involvement of the community, making up the vast majority of the cast and ensemble, including no fewer than four children's choruses. It is also worth noting that the febrile atmosphere in the Union Chapel was that this sense of community involvement was woven right into the back seats of the auditorium. There is little sense of division in such an enterprise, no consumer-expectation. Tickets are bought to support friends, family and the work of neighbours rather than in pursuit of another London entertainment.

With this investment that starts before the box office, the audience offer attentiveness. In return, the company are not shy. The story is one of difficult decisions made to get by and grasping the responsibility of those choices both in the present and for the future. South African costuming and accents season the colour and dynamism of the staging, including a brilliant sequence with a multi-piece cardboard train. The fun contrasts violently and effectively with the pathos of dramatic corners in which all are fully invested. The children's set-piece, Big Mole, may bring the house down but it is just one of many admirable turns that defy niggling criticism with properly earnest performance.

Driving the show is the energetic Scott Stroman, complete with 12 piece band. Good work all round.

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