About Turn Theatre, Lodge Cottage, Rickmansworth Park, Rickmansworth WD3 4HF  email: info@aboutturn.co.uk

***** FANTASTIC” The Herald

Edinburgh Festival Fringe opera review: Orpheus and Eurydice, Alice Saville, Fest ****

The Fringe is known as the place that production values come to die, so when you see an opera company represent the journey to hell and back with not one, but two fully realised set changes—from a shiny floored hospital room with blinking monitors, to a Teletubbies-bright astroturfed garden, and back again—you can be sure they mean business.

About Turn have addressed the dearth of opera at the Fringe in serious, if engagingly bonkers, style. Their lavish-by-festival-standards production condenses Gluck's opera into little over an hour, accompanied by a small chamber orchestra. This 1762 German work is a sensible choice. Gluck was keen on dramatic power over the lavish ballets and displays of vocal virtuosity of the Italian operas of his youth, making his work ripe for a modern setting. German director Sebastian Ukena's irreverent approach converts the shepherds and shepherdesses of his pastoral original into an enjoyably bonkers chorus of garden gnomes in little pointy hats, scattering neon fake flowers. But there's realism, too, as Orpheus's backward glance is given careful psychological reasoning by Eurydice's attacks on his resolve. Counter-tenor Magid El Bushra's truthful performance emphasises Orpheus's petulance and delicacy, while the pared-down chorus offers a richly blended living surround sound as well as plenty of colour.

This is an Orpheus who's been dragged out of his underworld (even if he can't bring Eurydice with him) into a lively, fun performance that's heavenly for opera fans and is anything but the living hell that opera sceptics might suspect. Go: you won't look back.


Edinburgh Festival Fringe opera review: Orpheus and Eurydice, David Kettle, The Scotsman ****

There are some jaw-dropping moments in London-based About Turn Theatre Company’s staging of Glück’s Orpheus and Eurydice. To say more might spoil the surprise – suffice it to say that life-size garden gnomes play a big role at one point. But what’s really astonishing is just how good the show is overall. It’s a proper opera, faithfully performed (albeit in an abridged version), with a remarkably creative staging and some seriously fine performers too – no sense of watering things down for an opera-uninitiated Fringe audience, just having faith (and rightly so) in their very strong production. Glück’s original is admittedly not the most sparkling work in the repertoire (although it’s got some lovely tunes), but director Sebastian Ukena gives it a striking contemporary setting, with Orpheus grieving over his coma-stricken Eurydice in a hospital room, lured down to a fantastical underworld by the seductive Amore in the hope of waking her. Countertenor Magid El-Bushra is a real discovery in the central role of Orpheus, with a beautifully lyrical, expressive voice and strongly focused acting, too; soprano Olivia Clarke is nicely petulant as Eurydice, with a big soprano voice; and Kate Reynolds both comforting and alluring as the goddess Amore. .. But it’s Ukena’s hugely imaginative production, brought to life with remarkable visual flair by designer Christine Hatton, that lives longest in the memory – and they achieve quite a coup in challenging Glück’s unconvincing happy ending to heart-rending effect. It’s a superb production, mature and insightful, and best of all, it has something to say.


Edinburgh Festival Fringe opera review: Dido and Aeneas, Broadway Baby ****

“About Turn’s Dido and Aeneas is an innovative new production of a timeless opera, featuring an ensemble of very talented emerging performers. The young company have modernised Purcell’s classic baroque work, creating an exciting, visually stunning hour of music. Based on Book IV of the Aeneid, the opera recounts the tragic love affair between Dido, Queen of Carthage and Aeneas, the Trojan hero. This is a mesmerising, modern take which works powerfully by bringing the tragedy of the classical lovers into the twentieth century.

Their take on the opera sees the classical source converted into a WWII setting, with Aeneas as a fighter pilot who must leave his lover for the call of duty. The costumes are brilliantly done, with Dido sporting a dark green tailored suit, hat, fur stole and perfectly coifed hair in the opening scene. Later, she enters for the closing scenes of the tragedy in a vintage wedding dress, joining the unhappy ranks of Miss Havisham and Blanche DuBois. The chorus are given a sinister uniformity with nurses’ and soldiers’ outfits. All the cast wear dark eye makeup and a subtle coat of white face paint, which gives them a hollowed, gaunt pallor to suit the oncoming tragedy.

As the music begins to play, the entire stage is covered with a white, opaque gauze, hiding the set, which is an inspired touch in the small theatre. It acts in place of the red velvet curtains of an opera house, encouraging the audience to really listen to the prologue. The fabric then drops to reveal the ensemble, with grievously troubled Dido at the fore singing I am prest with torment. The musicians consist of a cello, violin and electric keyboard. Their dynamic playing perfectly captures the immense range of feeling in the score, running the gauntlet of emotions: love, jealousy, hate, rage, sorrow.

Dido’s reversal of fate occurs when the Sorceress, plotting the downfall of Carthage, sends an elf in the disguise of Mercury to inform Aeneas of Iove’s command that he must set sail to found a new Troy on Latin soil. Dido becomes increasingly riddled with fear and sorrow, singing, The skies are clouded. Hark! In this modern setting, this moment is Aeneas’ departure for war. The lights dim and we hear the sound of fighter planes, as the opera takes a dark turn. Dido enters in the wedding dress, sits, drinks, while somewhat meta-theatrically playing music from the opera on an old-fashioned radio. Aeneas appears in his pilot’s uniform and the show spirals toward its climax. When I am laid in earth, or Dido’s Lament as it is often known, as performed in the show remains one of the most tragic and moving of arias in the history of opera.

This is a mesmerising, modern take which works powerfully by bringing the tragedy of the classical lovers into the twentieth century. The fate of war-torn families bears a strong resemblance to the inevitability of Dido’s abandonment. The production will appeal to new audiences and existing fans of the opera. With strong individual performances from the lead roles, a great supporting cast of singers and a beautifully detailed set, Dido and Aeneas is not a show to miss”.


Edinburgh Festival Fringe opera review: Dido and Aeneas, Fringe Review

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

“The most innovative interpretation I have seen in a long time of what is a timeless piece by one of England’s foremost composers. It was also in the top flight from a technical point of view, namely the singing and orchestration.... The About Turn Theatre Company has assembled a formidable cast, orchestra and crew for this production... Rachael Cox is a tour de force as Dido. Possessed of imposing voice, she delivers each aria with a degree of precision that has the audience hanging on her every note. Dido and Aeneas presents a particular challenge to singers in the range of emotions they are required to convey in a such a short space of time, particularly so in the case of Dido. Ms Cox’s faultless performance demonstrated her complete understanding and command of the role. Put simply, she nailed it.

Timothy Reynolds as Aeneas was no less impressive. An Australian with a resonant tenor voice, he brought appropriate angst and tension to the role, no more so than during the gripping denouement. The rest of the cast doubled as nurses, witches, sorcerers and, in the cases of Matthew Nicholls, a quite endearing sailor. Collectively they produced a precise, clearly articulated and extremely enjoyable interpretation of the arias in which they performed. They were supported by an impressive chamber trio of harpsichord, violincello and violin and the ensemble was skilfully orchestrated by the commanding musical director, Chris Brammeld.

Christine Hatton’s innovate set creates an air of sadness and sobriety even before we start. A three-sided curtain shields the stage from the prying eyes of the audience, acting as the screen around the hospital bed where a wounded Aeneas is being treated by a chorus of nurses, prior to receiving a visit from his love, Dido. The curtains fall away to reveal a hessian floor – this is a field hospital – and an array of superb costumes and props that would look good on any West End stage. Nurses morph into sorcerers, attendants and back to nurses again with seamless efficiency. Lighting was supportive and sound was used as an effective adjunct to the score, particularly as Aeneas abandons Dido.

But these are details. This is a timeless piece by one of England’s foremost composers and this was the most innovative interpretation I have seen in a long time. It was also in the top flight from a technical point of view, namely the singing and orchestration. The About Turn Theatre Company is clearly going places.“

Edinburgh Festival Fringe opera review: The Diary of Anne Frank, Miranda Heggie, The Herald *****

WRITTEN in 1968 by the Russian composer Grigory Frid, The Diary of Anne Frank is a one act monodrama for solo soprano and a poignant, yet surprisingly uplifting piece, with a message which is as relevant today as it was at the end of the Second World War. Soprano Polly Ott is a fantastic communicator, simultaneously radiating the exuberance and vulnerability of a young teenage girl, with an alluring voice and perfect annunciation throughout. Cypriot pianist Stavroula Thoma played the piano reduction of Frid’s chamber orchestral score with slick precision, bringing a vast array of colour to Frid’s atonal harmonies. With simple staging, director Sebastian Ukena’s production for About Turn Theatre Company very much shows that sometimes less is more; glowing black and white portraits of children who have fallen victim to genocide around the world appear like a candle-lit vigil on the almost empty stage, compounding the ongoing tragedies of conflict in a beautifully effective manner.