Saturday, 23 September 2017

Fever Pitch, Highbury Opera Theatre

What would musical life in London do without churches? Sitting at the back of Union Chapel in Highbury, flicking through the programme for this new opera Fever Pitch, from Highbury Opera Theatre, one is struck by the role played by benevolent local church halls, the churches themselves and the musicians that they employ (even on a sporadic basis) in offering the space in which to rehearse a production such as this.

If this is a fairly obvious point, it's also a transferable one in the case of Fever Pitch. The piece, adapted by Tamsin Collison from Nick Hornby's seminal 1990s novel of the same name concerns the faithful, the true believers who would fixate on the team religiously... that may be enough direct analogy for now but it's also representative of the ideal that propels HOT, a community-centric company that brings its own community together. A chorus concerning this in the second half of the show was less drama and more mission statement.

It's Fever Pitch The Opera's strongest suit, too. For both the inevitable 45 minute halves a company scrambled in both age and sex are constantly on the move, using all the space in the octagonal chapel, singing, fighting, dancing and - that most tricky thing to do on stage - smiling and greeting one another. Scott Stroman's score is a hugely ambitious survey of, largely, jazz styles from 1950s big band to slippery jazz of the periods shown on stage in passing banners ('1968', '1976' etc.) and incorporating more familiar terrace chants into its rhythm and contours than I could keep an ear on.

The adults, teenagers and children of HOT set about it quite fearlessly, actually. The sextet of principals are head-mic'd for clarity (there's no fear of 'you're going home in a Fach-ing ambulance'), All had properly absorbed the fidgety score (pitch and rhythm with one eye perpetually on the tension of some Arsenal game) and brought great focal charisma to this home fixture. And home fixture it was. The audience loved it from the start and the whole evening was all the more fun for it.

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