BWW Review: THE CHRISTMAS PROMS at Her Majesty's Theatre

BWW Review: THE CHRISTMAS PROMS at Her Majesty's TheatreOnce more, the Adelaide Festival Centre presented the Christmas Proms 2017, an ever popular part of the yearly programme. This year marked a new direction for the Proms, with the a cappella quartet, The Idea of North, providing the singing, replacing the past format of two guest stars and a backing vocal group. The only original member of the quartet, tenor, Nick Begbie, directed the production, and also acted as the compère. The others in the quartet are Naomi Crellin, alto and musical director, Emma Rule, soprano, and Luke Thompson, bass. They were joined by their collaborator, Kaichiro Kaitamura, who vocally recreates the sounds of a drummer, and provides other sound effects.

Benjamin Northey, Chief Conductor of New Zealand's Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and Associate Conductor with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, conducted the orchestra, with many of Adelaide's top musicians in the ensemble, so the orchestral backing was superb.

Kathryn Sproul came up with a nicely festive set design, once again, to help set the mood for the concert. Regularly assisting or, perhaps, hindering in his panic, was Hew Parham, as the stage manager elf. His antics kept everybody amused and, with luck, he'll be a permanent part of the new Proms.

Alirio Zavarce joined the quartet, and Kaitamura, as narrator for a segment titled, Not Quite the Night Before Christmas, rewriting the lyrics of snippets of Christmas songs and delving into climate change and a dispute with the striking reindeer, a situation unsolved by mediation. For what is supposed to be a family concert for Christmas, I found this politically sensitive segment somewhat inappropriate, and incompatible with the seasonal spirit and, from the restlessness and audible whisperings of "can we go" and "I'm bored" that I heard around me, so did the children over whose heads it soared. A muddy sound mix, coupled with Zavarce's accent, didn't help.

Appearances by both the Tutti Choir, and the On Stage Children's Choir, settled the younger members of the audience for a while, with music that they knew and to which they could relate, as did the several sing-along interludes on familiar seasonal carols and songs. The attention was lost again, though, on the unfamiliar melodies and foreign languages on a good many numbers presented under the theme this year, A World of Christmas. The comedy of the elf stage manager, and the appearance of Santa Claus, of course, couldn't have pleased them more.

I couldn't help feeling that the concert had been pitched too high and did not take account of the fact that there could be very, very young children, many under the age of five, in the audience, who would not understand three-syllable words, or major concepts such as climate change and industrial relations.

At one point, Begbie jokingly asked if there was a scriptwriter in the audience, and many a true word is said in jest. With a year to plan the next Proms, perhaps one can be found who is more oriented to writing for both children and adults. A word to Windmill Theatre, possibly, will find one. Self-direction rarely ends well and so, with luck, a separate director, and a good producer, can be enlisted. This was the first year with the new approach to the Proms, of course, and no doubt there will be changes based on what was learned this time.

There were a good many unaccompanied adults who enjoyed the sophisticated jazz harmonies, possibly even being there as fans of the quartet more than for the seasonal celebration, they are, after all, an Aria Award-winning group and, for those overseas who might not be familiar with The Idea of North, think Manhattan Transfer and you are in much the same neighbourhood.

Summarising, then, there was plenty in this year's Proms for adults, particularly the ecologically aware, but work needs to be done to make it a family concert again by addressing the inclusivity of the very young audience members. I look forward to seeing how the new concept develops by next year.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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