THE WANDERING SCHOLAR
libretto by Clifford Bax music by Gustav Holst.
King’s Head Theatre 115 Upper Street N1 1QN To 16 June 2013.
Runs 25min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 June.
Holst the bringer of jollity in a style that could pop-up almost anywhere.
After being interplanetary and exploring eastern mysticism, composer Gustav Holst finally turned his hand to this brief sex comedy. Its story derives from a tradition testing norms of married life against irregularities born of desire. While husband Louis labours in the field, his wife Alison enjoys entertaining the local priest, making him yet plumper with stew and cake before retiring with him up a ladder for some attic nooky.
But their clandestine routine’s disturbed when an impoverished scholar wanders their way. Already forced to sell his books, apart from the beloved Virgil, for food he’s sent on his way without a morsel by the priest, who’s determined to satisfy his own appetites.
Before he manages this, however, the scholar returns with the more hospitable Louis. When the wife tries to send the pair to the village for food, claiming her cupboard’s bare, the scholar reveals stew, cake, wine and skulking cleric to the deceived husband.
Retribution’s swift, the cake standing in for a custard pie, and the priest being sent away with cream, if not egg, on his face.
Holst’s 1934 score moves merrily along with melodic interest if not stand-out numbers. Toby Jones’ production brings the setting closer to modern times than the original 13th-century, stiffening the script’s polite early 20th-century sinews with a notable rubbery penis and some down-to-earth sexual activity.
Hannah Spearing’s design elements sit comfortably on the set of another King’s Head production. In suggesting a rural location they fit a production in which Opéra Les Fauves live up to their name, showing the animal nature of sexuality. Alison enters like a cat and her husband is cockily confident of his dog’s fidelity while he’s being cheated behind his back.
Viola and piano accompany well in this small space. The question isn’t whether this piece should be revived, but where to revive it after the four King’s Head performances. The production could be mounted anywhere there’s a reasonable sized room with a decent piano. It could become the comic half of a double-bill with Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea. For it’s certainly worth seeing again.
Alison: Eleanor Ross.
Louis: Richard Moore.
Pierre: Davis Menezes.
Father Philippe: Dionysios Kyropoulos.
Director: Toby Jones.
Designer: Hannah Spearing.
Conductor/Viola: Danyal Dhondy.
Piano: Luca Tieppo.