Neil Bartlett / Britten: The Canticles

While I was in Brighton on the 9th, I went to see this interpretation of Britten's Canticles that my friend (Zach Fletcher) is dancing in. It ran for only one day of the Brighton Fringe, but pretty much sold out the Theatre Royal - I guess 800+ people. I sat in the box closest to stage left, so I had an excellent view of the singers and musicians - which doubtless influenced my appreciation, because I found them much more compelling than the other more theatrical/innovative parts.

The tenor, Ian Bostridge, was difficult not to watch - so I took a while to notice the mimed breakfast (teacups, no tea) taking place downstage left to accompany the first Canticle. This was quite a lovely and tasteful breakfast between two gay young men. It went beyond a pantomime based exactly on the lyrics (no Jesusing around), and for me was the most successful of the Canticles in this respect - adding to the music rather than taking away from it. Canticle number three, with projections filling the whole back wall and stage, was the most annoying visually because the childishly literal projections were impossible to ignore, as well as being projected onto black, making the high powered projectors seem amateurish in that space. A reference to Jesus in the lyrics would cue to an image of Jesus' crucifixion from the Isenheim altarpiece. A repeat of the 'still falls the rain' motif brings back images of bombs being dropped. This formula added nothing that one could not choose to infer from the lyrics, and took away the possibility of any other interpretation.

The other movement pieces are the kind of thing you usually get from Frantic Assembly - so they are interesting only in that they are being performed in a different context. I did not find they added to the music apart from the very end of the performance - after the music stops the only sound and movement comes from a performer at the back continuing to spin. The lighting design is consistently beautiful and simple apart from the one section of projections in the middle.

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