Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Audience participation & great fun: A Whistle-Stop Hansel and Gretel at the actors church

Andrea Tweedale as the Witch, Hansel and Gretel, Concordia Foundation (Photo Jonathan Rose0
Andrea Tweedale as the Witch, Hansel and Gretel, Concordia Foundation (Photo Jonathan Rose)
Humperdinck Hansel and Gretel, Whistle-Stop Opera production for schools, Concordia Foundation at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2017
Engaging introduction, and great fun; a schools version of the opera classic

Ros Savournin as the Dew Fairy, Hansel and Gretel, Concordia Foundation (Photo Jonathan Rose0
Ros Savournin as the Dew Fairy,
(Photo Jonathan Rose)
St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden is packed with lively school children (aged seven to nine I'd imagine) along with their teachers. At the front Ros Savournin, wearing a pair of wings in her persona as the Dew Fairy, is taking the children through the songs and dances that they have previously learned at school. Singing is lusty and the participation in the dance routines completely enthusiastic despite the confined space of the pews. Then John Savournin comes in from the back, singing the opening of the Sandman's aria from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, and the show has started.

For the next 45 minutes, John and Ros Savournin (in fact, brother and sister) along with Andrea Tweedale (mother and witch), Ellie Laugharne (Gretel), Polly Leech (Hansel, a role she was singing recently with Pop-Up Opera) and accordionist Milo Milivojevic, will keep the children entertained and more with a Whilst-Stop Opera production of Hansel and Gretel which was originally devised for Opera North and which is being presented by the Concordia Foundation. John and Ros set the performance in the context of imagination and day dreamining, with a call for 'volunteers' from the audience eliciting Ellie Laugharne and Polly Leech as Gretel and Hansel, and John Savournin engages the children in the process of deciding what the stage children will do.



Polly Leech, Ellie Laugharne, John Savournin, Andrea Tweedale, Hansel and Gretel, Concordia Foundation (Photo Jonathan Rose0
Polly Leech, Ellie Laugharne, John Savournin, Andrea Tweedale
(Photo Jonathan Rose)
We get all the famous bits of the opera, in a condensed form and quite often with the children singing along too. But the show is concerned to not only keep the children's attention, but to help explain. So, Ros and John Savournin interrupt and intervene, explaining to the children, getting their help with things and, as far as the space allows, soliciting their participation.

Prior to the performance, the Concordia Foundation has arranged music, drama, and art workshops with the school children, and a total of eight Key Stage 2 classes learned music from the opera for the pair of performances on 20 November (I saw the second one, when the artists seemed to be as fresh as ever).  As a result of the art workshops, children had made flowers and branches for the forest, and were most enthusiastic in their creating 'scary' noises! Then for the gingerbread hut, one class came forward with the pictures of food that they had made and which they attached to the hut.

Our witch, Andrea Tweedale, was wonderfully glamorous, and the action of the opera proceeded with lively imagination. The acoustic of the church being what it was, words were not always clear (the singing was in English), but John Savournin's interventions ensured the children knew what was going on and had the advantage of involving them in the imaginging of the piece.

At the end, everyone joins in singing 'Ding dong the witch is dead' and then John Savournin retreats to the back of the church, closing things by singing the end of the Sandman's aria.

Ellie Laugharne, John Savournin, Polly Leech, - Hansel and Gretel, Concordia Foundation (Photo Jonathan Ros)
Ellie Laugharne, John Savournin, Polly Leech - Hansel and Gretel, Concordia Foundation (Photo Jonathan Rose)
The children had clearly had great fun, enjoying what was probably their first opera, and I have to confess that I did too.

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