As the rain lashes down on thousands at the Back to the 80s concert in The Quarry gardens, Shrewsbury, the audience in the Walker Theatre at Theatre Severn on the banks of the River Severn is, as I write, enjoying an amazing feast of entertainment: as part of the Shift Time Festival in celebration of the Darwin Bicentenary, a triple bill of: musical theatre, the premiere of Opera North’s “The Weatherman” by Paul Clark and John Binias; a theatrical performance “In Praise of Darwin’s Mistakes” by Arjen Mulder with Geoffrey Streatfield; and “Follow the Voice”, a new film by Marcus Coates.
Today I attended the opening of Follow the Voice in the Unitarian Church, Shrewsbury, a production echoing Darwin’s The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. Marcus Coates recorded a variety of manmade sounds in Shrewsbury, which, when speeded are similar to noises from the animal kingdom which they morph into in the film. The performance sat comfortably in its surroundings and, following the performance at Theatre Severn returns to the Unitarian Church from 12-4pm Wed-Sat until August 8th 2009.
I was fortunate to get the opportunity to talk to Geoffrey Streatfield, the RSC actor portraying a lab-coated scientist in media theorist Arjen Mulder’s production, in the Lion Hotel as he returned from rehearsal. In progress…
On my way to the dress rehearsal of The Weatherman I stopped off in Rowley’s House, Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery (SMAG) to photograph and video Glissman and Hofflin’s ELF exhibition. In progress…
And to cast a weather eye over progress on Quantum Leap which, sadly due to technical issues has not quite made its hoped for unveiling tomorrow and although nearly joined at the top is still encaged in its scaffolding gantry.
And so to Theatre Severn where I was in time to catch much of the last run-through and then the dress rehearsal of The Weatherman and gain a true flavour of the tour to come. The plot outlines the background to the friendship between Robert Fitzroy and Charles Darwin during their time on The Beagle only to be polarised by their beliefs.
The set, simple and effective, consisting of an outer circle of spotlights, a number of pale wooden chairs key to the performance and a circular central stage, placed the string quartet, conductor, and two actors – baritone and spoken voice – as deliberately equal partners in the production. It was clear early on that the production was open to individual though perhaps not always conscious decision making: the spoken voice and sung voice often competing contrastingly and effectively for attention, the interpretation of the placing and movement of the chairs, and a stunning narrative throughout. It was obvious also that this production will develop organically with time.
The use of a quite muted, subtle, but sometimes intricate score and a small cast consisting of a single baritone and a narrator gives a fresh slant to the meaning of operatic duet. This was effective, and additionally minimizes inertia allowing the staging of single performances. Humour was well delivered and the narrative engaging and easily assessible. The Weatherman moves on to Gateshead, Leeds, and London. Catch it if you can.
And finally I was delighted to be able to spend some time with Dominic Gray, Project Director of Opera North. In progress…
All in all a most stimulating and thought-provoking day.