Sunday, 17 August 2014

Theatre review: The Immortal Hour

How important is it to create atmosphere before a show starts? The Immortal Hour takes place in a spooky enchanted wood, and as the audience enters the Finborough is lit by very low green-and-blue lights. It certainly creates atmosphere, although it's mainly one of confusion, as people struggled to find an empty seat in the near-darkness1, and one lady tried to sit down in the aisle next to me, falling over and needing me and one of the musicians to help her back to her feet. Still, the forest in Rutland Boughton and Fiona Macleod's operetta is a dangerous one, and how better to establish that than by crippling the audience? Macleod was, in fact, a man called William Sharp, and Fiona seems to have been a fully-fledged alter-ego rather than just a pen-name. The bio notes are a bit vague on whether Sharp actually left the house dressed as Fiona, but he seems to have convinced W.B. Yeats among others that he was two different people. Part of Fiona's persona was as an expert on Celtic mythology, which is what she brings to this libretto.

Eochaidh2 (Jeff Smyth) is an Irish king who's gone into the forest in search of the fountain of knowledge and an immortal bride. The trickster god Dalua (Stiofàn O'Doherty) provides him with the latter, by wiping the memory of the fairy Etain (Michelle Cornelius) and having her fall in love with Eochaidh.

They return to rule his kingdom, but it's only a matter of time before the spell on Etain is lifted and she remembers the world she really belongs in. A detailed synopsis has been added as an insert to the programme, as if the producers realised rather late in the day that the show was too incomprehensibly bonkers for anyone to actually follow the story. Fortunately, it's the rather endearing kind of bonkers.

The story may be of mystical heartbreak but Benji Sperring's production keeps things light and brisk, Bethany Wells' design using gauze-covered flats to create the mystical wood, Abigail Gargas' hair and makeup turning the fairies into goths. The movement stylings in the "fountain of knowledge" sequence alone are an indication that the production isn't taking itself too seriously.

Boughton's music is enjoyable, and the show's well-sung by the young cast. This is The Immortal Hour's centenary production, and it's over 50 years since it was last produced in London. I can see that it might not be the sort of thing to fill an opera house any more, but in the intimate setting of the Finborough it's all rather good, weird fun.

The Immortal Hour by Rutland Boughton and Fiona Macleod is booking in repertory until the 26th of August at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes including interval.

1or the "unnecessarily bright and blinding light" if you're Katie Mitchell

2bless you

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