The Cricket Recovers (Almeida Opera)

The Cricket Recovers [London premiere]

Cricket – Claire Wild
Elephant – Jonathan Gunthorpe
Ant/Owl – Anna Burford
Vole/The Sun – Allison Bell
Squirrel – Joanna Burton
Sparrow – Simon Butteriss
Gallworm – Keith Miller

Almeida Ensemble
Roland Kluttig

Nicholas Broadhurst – director
Quay Brothers – design & projections
Neil Austin – lighting
Struan Leslie – movement

0 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 29 June, 2005
Venue: Almeida Theatre, London

A cricket who struggles to overcome her depression; an elephant who struggles to overcome his tree-climbing obsession: enlightened tale for children or post-modern fable for adults?

Actually both, as stories by the Dutch author Toon Tellegen form the basis of this 65-minute opera by Richard Ayres.

Cornish by birth and resident in the Netherlands since 1989, Richard Ayres has had little exposure in the UK, though a disc featuring his numbered compositions (Donemus) evinced music unerringly poised between the experimental and iconoclastic. So, too, “The Cricket Recovers” – a joint commission from the Aldeburgh Festival and the Almeida Opera.

Set to a pithy and pungent text by Rozalie Hirs, the music makes constructive nods in the direction of operas concerning the relationship of the human and animal worlds by Ravel and Janáček, though it is the latter’s “Nursery Rhymes” collection that is most directly invoked in the succession of 18, often very brief scenes in which the predicaments of cricket and elephant evolve in parallel – finally to be intertwined in a joint resolution which is the more telling for being so understated. And, as the instrumental preamble makes clear, this is an opera that moves at a cracking pace – even when the individual scenes are monologues for the either of the two main characters. The heady combination of Baroque gestures, late Romantic rhetoric and Dadaist vaudeville is wholly in keeping with Ayres’s ability to extract the keenest impact from his allusions by placing them in strikingly new expressive contexts. Thus however much the piece evokes comic-strip anarchy, its underlying involvement with deeply human – and relevant! – issues ensures that an appreciable pathos is unerringly sustained.

The designs and video projections are perhaps less daring or provocative than one might expect from the Quay Brothers, though their effectiveness ‘in situ’ cannot be doubted, while Nicholas Broadhurst’s direction suits the hectic succession of events to a tee. Claire Wild is unassumingly eloquent as the Cricket struggling with her state of mind, as is Jonathan Gunthorpe – dressed fetchingly in a Jules Verne-era diving suit – as the Elephant who comes to realise that containing one’s ambition is itself a form of mastery. There are appealing contributions from Allison Bell as a tricycle-riding Vole, Joanna Burton as a happy-go-lucky squirrel, Simon Butteriss as a pert Sparrow, while Keith Miller’s Gallworm is saved from being overly nightmarish by a frontal appendage worthy of King Ubu. Anna Burford’s city-gent Ant sets events in motion, only to point up the continuing existential dilemma at the close.

In the capable and enthusiastic hands of Roland Kluttig, the ever-dependable Almeida Ensemble plays with style and panache – setting the seal on the most engrossing and certainly the most entertaining new stage-work to have be seen in London for some while. Children from five to ninety-five: enjoy!

  • The Cricket Recovers runs until 4 July
  • Almeida Opera
  • Box Office: 020 7359 4404

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