There was a dizzy, sleep-light point last week when, an eighteen hour day somewhere in the midst of it, I saw three magnificent shows in 24 hours. All very different but each came with its own extensive learning potential. Across the three companies I reckon almost every training need was catered for somewhere.
First there was La Fille du Régiment at Royal Opera House, a sparkling romp, immaculately sung (especially by Natalie Dessay, Colin Lee and Alessandro Corbelli) and tremendous fun.
At the preceding press reception I got a useful update on what’s happening at ROH’s forthcoming 14-acre production park in Thurrock. The building will house huge craft workshops to replace the East London rented accommodation lost to the Olympics and there will be a very solid ROH presence in this socio-economically deprived Thames Gateway area.
Meanwhile, I learn from Matt Lane, Head of ROH Thurrock and Thames Gateway, that the company is already leading creative partnerships in over 100 Essex schools. Not only does that take cultural learning to thousands of school students, it also provides work for over 100 workshop facilitators and other staff - an appropriate project is specially designed for each school. There’s no one-size-fits-all. I immediately ask if I can visit one of these schools to see the work in action and am told that I’d be very welcome … so watch this space.
Lane and his colleagues are also working on a community opera to be produced later this year. The take-up of South Essex residents wanting to be involved was, very gratifyingly, over 1000. So who says opera is elitist, I wonder as I make my way downstairs for the Donizetti performance.
My next port of call was Little Angel Theatre in Islington for Barb Jungr’s The Fabulous Flutterbys (pictured above), which apart from the educationally unhelpful spelling in the title that contradicts all the conventions for ‘y’ plurals, is an unmitigated delight.
I watched this attractive, hour-long show - about metamorphosis in butterflies but also about friendship, nature, music and colour - in the upbeat company of dozens of entranced tiny children, older siblings and parents because it was half term. All the children were learning (including one little boy who clearly had learning difficulties) and oh so focused. Warmest congratulations to Jonathan Storey, Seonaid Goody, Arran Glass and the creative team.
Little Angel has always punched above its weight in the provision of workshops and activities from age 2 to adult. I’ve been there in the past with school parties and there are Saturday and evening opportunities to learn puppetry and puppet making.
And, as if that weren’t enough, then it was along Euston and Marylebone Roads to the season’s opening production at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. I used to teach The Crucible as an English Literature examination text and therefore know it well - as did the sprinkling of teenagers in the audience with parents. And it is sure to be popular with school parties. I don’t suppose Arthur Miller ever envisaged it in the open air but why not? Timothy Sheader’s strong production packed just as much menace - and chilling recognition of the play’s timelessness - as it does indoors.
The chorus of unnamed girls is played, by arrangement with Equity, by East 15 students. In view, statue-like in the shadows, most of the time and very effectively directed, these young women were evidently getting a fine professional training opportunity.
For the third year running OAT is offering play-related workshops in association with the Young Shakespeare Company and there is a downloadable education pack on The Crucible on OAT’s website.
So there we are. Three shows and three different routes to learning. What a multi-headed beast ‘training’ is in this industry.