BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Laban Theatre
To the beautifully appointed Laban Theatre on the banks of Deptford Creek (now a much sought-after locale doncha know) for Trinity Laban's Christmas show, Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol.
Though no excuse is needed for a seasonal outing of Dickens' tale of the miser discovering late in life the redemptive power of love, one reads in the programme that the choice has been made as part of the Conservatoire's Venus Blazing initiative, a commitment to ensuring that over half the works performed in 2018-19 will be written by female composers. Laudable, but perhaps an opera with a few more meaty female roles might have got the job done regardless of its composer's gender.
Enough snarking - elsewhere, the programme includes the best explanation of opera I've ever read. Musgrave writes, "The libretto is fairly empty and plain. The music provides the adjectives and atmosphere." That is always true, and seldom more so than in this dark treatment of the tale that juxtaposes the folly of greed with the joy of empathy.
And those "adjectives" are provided by a splendid student orchestra that spills out into the wings under conductor, John Pryce-Jones. There's a hint or two of carols, a lot of doom laden strings and some peppy brass when Scrooge finally sees that his lifetime of hoarding has only bought him invisible chains, which he ultimately casts off with the help of Tiny Tim's demand to embrace of humanity "one and all".
The atmosphere is helped no end by a set characterised by the kind of monochrome greys inspired by Gustav Doré's drawings and engravings but, on a bleak day at Creekside, might well have referred to the Deptford some of us remember from the days when Musgrave wrote the work - those of the grim High Thatcherite recession of the early 80s. Costumes too, are wonderfully well observed, giving a real West End look to the production.
With so many students cast at different stages in their education (rightly, it eschews the opportunity to double up on roles), the singing is inevitably variable. Standouts include the rich voice of Sandeep Gurrapadi as Bob Crachit and powerful Megan Linnell as Martha Crachit. (There are many other fine voices, but they come and go a little too quickly to mark at times!)
Scrooge himself is played by Giuseppe Pellingra, whose boxer's physique and gait give him a glowering, menacing stage presence (especially when alongside the equally impressive Lars Fischer as Marley's Ghost), but his vocals (unamplified as were all those of all the cast) did not always hit the back of this large auditorium. Indeed, with more and more of us seeking the help of scrolling text on TV, the surtitles often offered by larger houses (even for operas sung in English) would have been welcome and enhanced the pleasure in listening to the singing. One for the management to consider because it's certainly not a cheat!
Ultimately, one is impressed by the sheer scale of the enterprise, the discipline of everyone involved and the huge talents it showcases. And, even if the primary purpose is not entertainment qua entertainment, the show entertains from start to finish.
Good luck to the students and the staff seeking careers in one of the most multinational art forms one could imagine in a country that appears to have lost the central message of A Christmas Carol - only if all are welcome in our home and at our table, will the shackles of selfish misery be thrown off.