first night

The Voyage

Helen Bench reviews the first DOE production of the year.

 Durham Opera Ensemble’s The Voyage was the type of production that surprises you, captivates you, and mesmerises for an hour and a half without you realising it.

The concept of The Voyage is inspired by results of the Arab Spring which have seen the largest displacement of humans since the Second World War. The reminder of this at the beginning of the production ensured that the audience kept in mind how raw and real this is as an issue affecting many millions of people today.

In what was a genuinely moving and at times emotionally exhausting experience, the production follows a group of refugees as they seek a new place to settle. The first act deals with a sense of loss and bewilderment and the whole-chorus opening provided a strong and captivating start to this. Though small, the orchestra filled the room from its first notes, allowing the audience to be fully emerged in the expressions of the singers on stage. At the end of the act, there was a glimmer of hope for the travellers provided by the trio of David Nehaul, Hannah Cox and Catherine Bench but the audience could barely relax before the lights were up once more, already so caught up in the plight of the travellers.

On the road in the second act, we see them dealing with their struggles and loss in different ways. This was the most emotionally wrenching act and special mention must be given to Will Ford’s solo. The pitiful praying at the end of the act meant that, once more, barely an audience member moved before the lights came up for the final act.

The third act kept a sense of progression going through it, in contrast to the other acts, in which the audience had shared in the overwhelming wanderings of the travellers.  All four soloists from this act deserve special mention: Florian Strotz commanded the stage and conveyed the story he was telling with expertise; Rowena Ashby’s voice filled the hall with a beautiful tone; Tom Brooke’s heart-wrenching performance was a struggle to stay composed through; and Sophia Smith Galer’s rendition of a Lebanese song was stunning yet haunting with no musical accompaniment. The sense of renewed hope and peace in the final number provided a humbling message: this production ended on a high and we can only hope that the millions displaced can find a similar sense of belonging.

In terms of staging, this production was both effective and efficient. The starkness onstage was well complimented by the lighting department to demonstrate the sense of loss from the war. Additionally, the costumes were well thought-out. All of the actors are in “western” clothes, something that is often lost when people imagine refugees in flight. This choice kept the production relevant and the message clear.

As can be expected, there were a few first-night teething problems with minor mistakes from singers and crew but these did nothing to take away from the superb individual performances and overall power of the production as a whole. Although this is not the type of production you might often come across on Durham’s theatre scene, the message is powerful and the standard extremely high. It would be wise to get your hands on tickets soon because this production looks certain to be a sell-out. 

21 November 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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