English National Opera at Theatre Royal Stratford East, London ★★★★★
IT’S terrific to see Stratford East programming an opera in ways that echo the populist ethos of its most famous artistic director, Joan Littlewood. Genius that he was, Benjamin Britten understood that his community opera Noye’s Fludde (based on the story of Noah’s Ark) would only come alive with an ensemble displaying a range of stage abilities. In Lyndsey Turner’s superb production, which has impressive local talent on show, there are also some little ones who look amusingly flustered at being on stage — who naturally melt hearts and steal the show.
Although the setting has been updated to contemporary times, designer Soutra Gilmour uses simple flat props in the manner of cardboard cut-outs to recreate the stylised approach of a medieval miracle play. A raised platform houses the orchestra, and is also a heavenly space from which God (a suitably austere Suzanne Bertish) speaks.
The ark itself is of the size and dimensions most school productions could only dream of and creates a huge impact when it explodes into colour at the appearance of the rainbow. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, especially in the extended procession of the animals. A tortoise arriving late — but just in time to be saved — was a highlight.
Professional singers Marcus Farnsworth (Noye) and Louise Callinan (Mrs Noye) do an excellent job, but the amateur parts are played with verve, too. Conductor Martin Fitzpatrick leads with all the zing one could wish for. Lucky Stratford East to have such resources, talent and ambition in its midst.