Peter Grimes with an ever-present sea? Productions such as this – ‘traditional’ in style, faithful to both music and text, focusing on the interaction between characters and with singers actually performing at the front of the stage so that they can be both seen and heard by the entire house (fancy that!) are something of a rarity these days, and if you admire them you are liable to be told, sniffily, that you “don’t get out enough” or that “there is no such thing as what the composer wanted.” In fact, it’s this style of production which is now thought-provoking – at least to those who do get out enough, and are aware of the fact that the mobile phone / clipboard / earpiece / Hollywood / black-clad lackeys show might have had something to say fifteen years ago, but is now past its sell-by date – even in the context of the annual high school play.
Grange Park’s Peter Grimes is not perfect, but it succeeds by concentrating on the conflict between the “…lost, lone man, so harassed and undone” and the brutal power of the Borough mob; seldom can there have been so horribly threatening, so relentlessly persecuting a set of villagers as these. This was the final performance of the run, a very different experience from our usual first night, so it’s likely that what we heard and saw was mostly as polished and confident as it comes.
Carl Tanner certainly has the heft for Grimes – it’s no surprise that his signature role is Radamès – and he presents the stubborn, independent side of the character with convincing skill. One might want more vulnerability in a few passages, but he rises to the occasion in the ‘mad’ scene. Georgia Jarman is a more forceful Ellen than one usually hears, her soprano perhaps not at its best on this occasion, with a tendency towards harshness. Andrew Rees made a striking impact as Bob Boles, his voice ringing out with heroic fervour, and Rebecca de Pont Davies’ Mrs Sedley was yet another of her finely observed and detailed portraits.
Clive Bayley was a sonorous Swallow, Stephen Gadd a sympathetic but somewhat under-characterized Balstrode, and Nigel Robson a sublimely credible Reverend. Gary Griffiths made his mark as a less than usually spivvy Ned, and Matthew Stiff was a grimly convincing Hobson. Auntie and her nieces were strikingly portrayed and sung by Anne-Marie Owens, Soraya Mafi and Rosie Bell respectively. The chorus brought the mean-spirited yet vulnerable villagers to tremendous, vibrant life, and the orchestra played superbly for Stephen Barlow, especially in the ‘Sea Interludes.’
There are quibbles with Jeremy Sams’ production and Francis O’Connor’s design – the childhood flashbacks did not quite work and the costumes were a tad too muted, but these can be forgiven for so much that was right. Andrzej Goulding’s video design and Paul Anderson’s lighting were both poetically evocative, that ever-present sea a constant reminder both of what these people were up against in times of storm, and the limpid beauty which surrounded them on calmer days. The set was fishing-hut naturalistic, but totally credible, and it was typical of this production that when Rev. Horace says of Grimes’ hut, ‘Here’s order. Here’s skill’ there was actual evidence of exactly that, instead of a near empty cell.