Sunday, 5 July 2015

'All The Angels - Handel and the First Messiah' - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This afternoon we went to the matinee performance of the new play by Nick Drake about Handel's 'Messiah', 'All The Angels'. It's only on for a short season and closes tomorrow but I'm jolly pleased I saw it, even from really restricted view seats. It's the tale of how Handel came to write the glorious 'Messiah', from his failed opera season in London to receiving the words to writing it and ending up in Dublin for it's first public performance. And the rest is history.

It's on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe as part of its 'summer by candlelight' series (and yes, it really is lit by candles). It's a small stage with minimal setting but it works really well, is warm and inviting and takes us back 300 years to when Mr Handel was frustrated by the critics reviews of his latest opera. He receives the libretto to 'The Messiah' and writes the music in a matter of weeks before heading to Dublin where he's been hired to perform but he's delayed  by a storm and can't cross the Irish Sea. The irascible old man meets a young music fan at the inn he's staying in and his mood softens.

He's now in Dublin training the local choirs to sing his great oratorio and he needs a soprano so he turns to Mrs Cibber, a London actress fleeing scandal and performing in Dublin who has a marvellous but untrained voice. He chooses her to train to sing some of the songs in his masterpiece and we follow the trial of his teachings and learn about the pair as we go. Lots of humour and lots of sadness. But great art emerges and after the premier in Dublin he asks her to perform again in Dubllin to recoup his expenses and also back in London where she can return in triumph. Such a simple story told so many times but so effective.

The tale is told by an anonymous Irishman called Crazy Crow, a porter at the theatre putting on the performance who's also a body snatcher for the Dublin surgeons. He's an 'everyman' character who tells at the start that he has a part in the story of the 'Messiah' and by the end we know he has. He's touched by it, his heart opens to its beauty and he can't escape it. He also plays various other parts in the play, switching accents and wigs in a flash. The acting is great and the minimal to non-existent set works so well with the raising and lowering candelabras.

We have David Horovitch as Master Handel with Kelly Price as Mrs Cibber and Sean Campion  playing Crazy Crow and all the other parts from grave digger and body stealer to lord in the blink of an eye. And, of course, we had the Portrait Choir singing exerpts from 'The Messiah'.

I loved it. It touched me in a place I didn't know existed. I booked tickets solely because it was playing its last weekend and if it was on at the Globe then it was worth seeing and how right I was. They put on good stuff y'know.  So good I'm going back for more tomorrow.

I now want to see 'The Messiah' live. In a cathedral. At Christmas. Go on ….

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