Director: Matthew Eberhardt
Conductor: James Holmes
Composer: Kurt Weill
Kurt Weill’s Street Scene focuses on the tenement lived in by the Maurrant family and a wide range of extra and extrovert characters. As Anna Maurrant, Giselle Allen plays a frustrated housewife in search of real love and affection that she finds fleetingly in her extramarital affair the milk collector (Steve Sankey). Allen’s voice is pitch perfect and imbued with deep emotion and passion as her character faces the chit chat of the other residents of the tenement.
The street of the title is perfectly designed by Francis O’Connor to allow the nosey neighbours to peep at the comings and goings of the building’s inhabitants and visitors. Anna’s husband Frank is depicted with masterful macho bravado by Robert Haywood who turns to the bottle to take away his life’s sadness and pointlessness. Throughout Haywood’s performance it is full of seething violence and fit to burst at any moment.
The standout role though has to be their daughter Rose played with a cunning mixture of innocence and worldliness by Gillene Butterfield. Although she tries to resist the temptations made to her by her boss Harry Easter (Quirijn de Lang) she finds the thought of escaping the street for the high life, fame and all that goes with it is her ultimate goal. As well as from Easter she has much admiration and adoration from neighbour Sam Kaplan with Alex Banfield fulfilling the complexity of the young law student with great skill. The ensemble performance is par excellence with all of the diversity of the street captured in some wonderfully precise acting and vocals.
Weill’s score is both beautiful and gritty under the baton of James Holmes with Orchestra of Opera North living up to their reputation of musical excellence. O’Connor’s costumes conjure up the period perfectly and add depth to the supporting cast’s impact. While Howard Hudson’s lighting with amber gas-lamps at various pitches of illumination serve to capture the many magical moments of the show.
Although some have criticised the predictability and obviousness of the plot, this production had the feel of just the right amount of suspense and anticipation to avoid cliché. Yes, it does have the form familiar to any TV soap but the direction of Matthew Eberhardt proves this is not such a bad thing.
With Act One setting the scene with the careful depiction of the key characters, Act Two really packs a punch and flies by at a frenzied pace, yet still allowing us time to react to the tragic and violent action.
No spoilers here but the denouement is both bloody and sad, given special gravitas by the full cast gaping at Frank Maurrant’s final speech. As light relief the children are absolutely wondrous, whether consuming ice cream in the heat or playing games in the foyer.
Street Scene will be a delight to lovers of Weill’s Americana as much as to those who simply like a tale well told. Once more Opera North have taken risks that have most definitely paid off in this intensely fascinating operatic masterpiece.
Runs on various dates at Leeds Grand Theatre until 28th February