title. The Owl and the Pussycat
venues . The Regents Canal, The Olympic Park
composer . Anne Dudley Libretto . Terry Jones design . Will Holt choreographer . Aline David
As a key event of Secrets: Hidden London, it is a moveable, floating feast, performed on a barge moored at a variety of locations. The deck is dressed with giant books, one of which is opened to reveal a pop-up set. Although the music is clearly operatic, with the small cast doubling roles all over the place, the lyrics are clear as a bell. As the light fades and the Owl and the Pussycat step off the barge into a pea-green boat and the Owl – ever the gentleman – rows away out of sight up the canal while the remaining cast finally sing the poem in full, there is a palpable frisson at the triumph of love. It would be quite wrong to suggest that Jones and Dudley have improved on Lear’s poem. But they have messed with it without actually messing it up. And that is a real achievement.
Terry Jones (of Monty Python) and Anne Dudley have come up with an intriguing, and political twist, on the imagined back-story to the poem. The decision to make the performance water-borne upon the Thames is an inspired touch that creates a metaphor for what is after all an epithalamion in the shape of an epic sea-borne journey for the felicitous feline and her resolute and amorousstrigiforme. Amusingly, they first get together over a shared delight in trapping rodents.
In Little Venice, where I saw the production the locale near Rembrandt Gardens was used to successful effect and the boat where the performance happened was furnished in suitable story-book setting; with a giant pencil, pencil holder and colossal book, which once opened began the story via a pop up set. The younger members of the audience did seems extremely attentive and captivated, perhaps the reasons for this lay as much with the wonderful costumes for the characters, larger-than-life acting and magical setting of the canal’s Brownings Pool and the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal.
Tyrone Landau and Freddie Tong made for the suitably hysterical and prudish League of Feline Decency and the star-crossed Owl and the Pussycat’s final escape onto their rowing boat as they sculled away from the barge as the opera concluded, was a rousing moment of free choice as well as a fine stage image. Although, I think younger children would not have understood all the politics of the piece or its vivid affirmation of the value of freedom to love whom we will, the dancing, music and set was enchanting enough for them; for the adult members of the audience, it was perhaps more than just an exercise in childhood mostalgia.
PLAYS TO SEE