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Review: HANDEL'S MESSIAH: THE LIVE EXPERIENCE, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Review: HANDEL'S MESSIAH: THE LIVE EXPERIENCE, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Classical Everywhere present a delightfully sumptuous staging of the Christmas favourite.

Review: HANDEL'S MESSIAH: THE LIVE EXPERIENCE, Theatre Royal Drury Lane For fans of Christmas and classical, Handel's rousing Messiah is usually top of their list of must-see shows. Conductor Gregory Batsleer's Classical Everywhere, an offshoot of Immersive Everywhere, makes its bow with a sumptuous staging of this seasonal favourite.

If Immersive Everywhere rings a bell, it is because they are the team behind the long-running The Great Gatsby, the rollicking The Choir of Man and new show Peaky Blinders: The Rise. As the new company's name suggests, Messiah is more about the music but with some of the inspired theatrical touches we've seen from its parent.

Batsleer has a stated passion for making classical music as accessible as possible. He has certainly succeeded on that front here: ticket prices for this one-off show ranged from £25-£75 which is eminently reasonable considering hat this production was staged at the recently refurbished home of Disney musical Frozen, lasts over two hours (including interval) and features an immense number of high profile musicians and singers,

He appears here conducting the combined masses of the English Chamber Orchestra and the London Symphony Chorus in a fluent and punchy rendition of the original score. When "Hallelujah" pops up at the end of the second part, most of the audience stands out of habit or sheer admiration of the musical wattage coming from the stage.

The soloists include some well known names from the world of opera either at the top of their game or getting there. Nicky Spence, a burly tenor from Dumfries won the BBC Music Magazine's Personality Of The Year award last April; that's no mean feat considering that in November 2021, he played Siegmund in one of the most underwhelming Wagner productions of modern times.

Alongside him are Australian soprano Danielle De Niese and ENO Harewood Artist Idunnu Münch who both play angels in the current run of the English National Opera's critically-acclaimed It's A Wonderful Life. Rounding out the quartet is the hirsute American bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum whose gruff tones vibrate across the hall. All four have phenomenal voices with impressive acting, especially from Münch who expresses joy, grief and fury with a stunning palpability.

For most producers, these musicians would suffice to bring Messiah to life. Batsleer goes a step further by adding in two narrators. Arthur Darville (who you may have seen as Rory in BBC's Doctor Who or in the Royal Court's Rare Earth Mettle as the controversially re-named Henry Finn) plays "Child" opposite Trinidadian actress Martina Laird as "Mother". For some reason, both are kitted in some kind of dystopian outfit topped off in Darville's case with what appears to be a rubber codpiece which, once seen, really cannot be unseen.

Did you think Batsleer would stop at a huge choir, a national orchestra, four international soloists and two narrators? Think again. The last part of the stage ensemble are three dancers (Dan Baines, Jemima Brown and Sara Maehara) whose movements (choreographed by Tom Jackson Greaves) underline the emotional elements of this show.

All that should be enough, right? Wrong. The final part is a massive vertical screen which resembles the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Conceived and created by flora&faunavisions GmbH, it displays a range of high-resolution abstract images. For his part, director Neil Connolly (also creative director of Immersive Everywhere) does a commendable job of keeping all these elements co-ordinated, cohesive and impactful while never losing sight of the heart-lifting music.

Oh, and one more thing: those who deride this particular vision of Handel's masterpiece as being inauthentic should be locked in some stocks and pelted with facts. True, Messiah was intended by its creator for a small band of musicians and chorus singers but many recent productions have been on a similar scale to Classic Everywhere's or even bigger: in 1784, it was performed in Westminster Abbey by around 525 singers and instrumentalists.

On top of that, Handel never intended it to be a Christmas thing: the work was written with Easter and the resurrection of Christ in mind. Those who hanker for a more authentic experience should hang on until next April to crank up the gramophone or accept that, as I do, this masterpiece is just another of our strangely apposite Christmas traditions that is easier to enjoy than justify.

More information on Classical Everywhere can be found on their website.

Photo credit: Craig Fuller



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