Scott Stroman’s score for this comic opera based on Michael Palin’s play is full of splendidly jazzy melodies and some fine choruses which the Highbury Opera chorus deliver with relish and do so very well indeed. Tamsin Collison has devised the libretto which works well. But there is a problem, good though the production and well sung by the leads though it is. Circumstances perhaps mean that John Ramster’s production is almost a concert version and this places the story of grumpy retired Stephen Febble having a disastrous weekend with his visiting family and neighbours, not to mention a visiting podiatrist, in a kind of limbo so that the events of the play, which would appear to be slightly in the Ayckbourne mould, have no context.There are good singers up there singing splendidly but there is no Febble family, no gathering of quite posh Suffolk villagers. It needs the confines of the room with windows opening on to the garden, where they are to hold a weekend drinks party, to work. However, that said the chorus work was dazzling, the orchestra under Stroman delivered the score with style, and Adrian Thompson was everything Febble should be. Given a series of tirades at the horror of it all – arrival of daughter and awful son in law, bolshie grand-daughter and the family dog from hell, not to mention the neighbours, the wife of one is having an affair with the podiatrist – he rises to all the challenges, while as his long suffering, but understanding wife, Kathy Taylor-Jones is an unflappable soothing presence amid the chaos. Cleveland Watkiss as the podiatrist does what really amounts to a solo guest appearance, arrives, struts his stuff with style, and leaves. In other words this Highbury Opera Theatre production shows that the piece has what you might call legs, but it needs a different kind of staging. The collection of sofas, one centre stage for the Febbles, surrounded by several in which the chorus sit to watch the goings on, is just not right.
As always one never quite knows with stars what to give – musically then four stars, but as a staging of the opera I would think three is being generous. Howver, that said this piece should be taken up and performed widely.
Stephen Febble: Adrian Thompson.
Virginia Febble: Kathy Taylor-Jones.
Diana: Joanna Harries.
Alan: Robert Gildon.
Charlotte: Rachel Maby.
Duff Gardner: Tom Poldre.
Bridget Gardner: Donna Canale.
Hugh Bedlaes: Clevland Watkins.
Director: Scott Stroman.
Musical Director: Scott Stroman.
Lighting Design: Joshua Collins.
Costume Supervisor: Tara Boland.
Photograph: John Swannel