Peter Grimes

Tue 16th – Sat 20th February 2016

reviews

Jessie Davidson

at 02:19 on 17th Feb 2016

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A mysterious green blue fog shrouds the stage. The sound of the sea echoes all around. Hands wave in succession, like the seaweed which entangles the corpse of the dead boy. In this dark experimental masterpiece, superb scriptwriting is combined with innovative staging to create a truly thought provoking production.

Highly disturbing and highly moving, Peter Grimes is a mythical story set in the remote village of Walberswick. It explores the morally ambiguous story of Peter Grimes, in a dark and mysterious plot involving many twists and turns. As it draws the audience in, the play slowly reveals details encouraging us to unearth the mystery. Yet while displaying superb drama, it is most concerned with psychology and moral issues.

The writing of Peter Grimes is excellent, though it is the acting that really brings the play to life. There is excellent unity between the melodramatic acting and the deeply emotional story it portrays. Em Miles, as Mary, enacts an extraordinarily convincing breakdown of a bereaved mother, while Julia Xavier Stier and Katie Woods, as mayor, and the chorus members, bring to life the blood thirsty mob of villagers as they seek Peter out.

Homoerotic desire and social awkwardness are captured brilliantly by the two leading men, Louis Norris and Tom Ingham, and one breath taking pause had the entire audience shivering with tension. Louis Norris is the star of the show, whose and his portrayal of Peter as an emotionally distraught and isolated character evokes a complex emotional response.

The drama created by the acting is heightened by the use of both staging and music. A violin, harp and tin whistle are used both to enliven the authentic country atmosphere of the town, and to provide a haunting melody mingling with the sound of the sea. This music is used to give uncanny effects; one scene shows the drowning of a highly realistic cat, accompanied by the soft music of a lyre. The blending of the beautiful and the grotesque adds to the play’s overall sense of moral confusion, as we wonder: how much can we trust Peter Grimes?

Sound is used brilliantly to emphasise the contrast between the domestic village and Peter’s wild cabin. In such wild locations, the thundering sound of the sea is constantly heard, at points threatening to overcome the actors’ voices. A deep dark stage, with only a convincingly realistic moon overcasting the scene, adds to the air of mystery, while a soft blue light gleams upwards as though reflecting the sea. The village, by contrast, is characterised by bright light and music, making it seem as though we really do move from one location to the other. The brilliantly designed and built set, a large wooden structure looming ominously in the background, doubles up as the isolated cabin the looming belly of a broken ship.

Amidst the excitement of the drama lurk thought provoking questions. While in the first half, psychological tension builds towards a dramatic climax, the second is given to reflection and contemplation, and deeper issues are explored. In a lengthy dramatic dialogue between Grimes and Mary, the play questions human isolation, and whether one can ever be anything but alone. It even questions drama itself and the performative aspect of grief. The writing is excellent here, both philosophical and witty. Existential arguments are interspersed with comments about the pompous vicar (Robin McFarland) who can only play a triangle.

Enticingly dramatic in its acting and staging, and deeply philosophical in its writing, Peter Grimes is an excellent achievement. This production is well acted, with outstanding technical features to back up the mysterious story. Possibly the most intriguing performance I have yet seen in Cambridge, it is certainly a play worth seeing.

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