Hastings' people's opera set for open
It’s been a long journey bringing Bloom Britannia to the stage, but Barefoot Opera are hoping this week’s production might prove to be just the start.
Bloom Britannia, a people’s opera, will get its premiere as a fully-staged show at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings on Friday, October 22 and Saturday October 23 at 7.30pm and on Sunday, October 24 at 4pm.
If all goes well, the hope is that it might be picked up and produced by other coastal towns around the country at some point in the future.
The piece is a new action-packed people’s opera, telling the story of one extraordinary day in the life of a seaside town. Bloom Britannia brings together a cast of people from the towns of Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill performing alongside top professional singers and a live band. Barefoot Opera are promising a “hilarious, raucous, action-packed, thrilling production celebrating the joy of singing, music and creativity in bringing our communities together and lifting our spirits.” A wide range of different organisations, community groups and choirs are also involved. Brighton-based composer Orlando Gough and Brighton-based librettist Stephen Plaice are behind the piece which will be directed by Polly Graham under artistic director Jenny Miller, working alongside conductor Christopher Stark.
Jenny said: “To have come through Covid is quite something and we are still knocking on wood as I speak. We are still dodging bullets. It is not 100 per cent certain. Nothing is predictable but we are very hopeful.
“And you can feel the spirit of all the people that have committed to it, people that are not professional musicians at all but they have committed to entering into this project and you can just see their commitment, their love, their involvement and just their desire to be part of this great big thing. It is just such a buzz from all the people involved. The whole thing is very life-enhancing.
“I would say that the whole thing is really about us pulling ourselves together as a community, us looking at ourselves as a community in the wake of Brexit and in the wake of the pandemic and in the wake of everything that has happened. And it is about us looking at ourselves with a sense of humour and also some satire. It is a comedy. There are laugh-out-loud moments but we are also looking at some really serious things. We’re looking at the community in relationship to refugees, to our changing population, to people coming in and we are also looking at the community from the point of view of whether we look backwards or forwards. It’s quite a big piece. It’s ambitious! When we first thought of doing this, we were all very much divided by the big vote of Brexit, and our community reflected that. Hastings voted remain or leave in exactly the same way that the national vote came out. And then there was the pandemic. In a way the pandemic has simply enlarged that question. There are people that have not got enough in our community and that has been exposed by the pandemic. There are people that have got quite a lot and some people maybe need to rethink. There are big inequalities. There are people that have property and homes and there are people that have got none of that. It feels like it is the same problem but writ larger and that’s what we need to look at. It’s about how we can get together and how we can help each other out.
“It is about looking at our behaviour and you have to say that it is not all pretty. We are not showing everyone behaving well or being charming. People are behaving quite badly at times and we show that, and we see people with different viewpoints clashing.
“(As for the future) I have huge ambitions for ensuring that this piece moves on. I think that this piece can speak to any coastal town in Britain, south or north. Most of the coastal towns are grappling with very similar issues such as the issue of gentrification versus people that have not got really stable homes; the issue of how we deal with new influxes of people and how we integrate them; the issue of the haves and the have-nots.”
Jenny is hoping for a big future for the show – a future which might have started to take shape already had it not been for the pandemic.
“The big question is what do we do next. I am hoping that once I have recovered from the whole process I can make some connections with other seaside towns that would be interested in following it up. I do think it is a piece that will resonate with other groups.” Tickets from the Barefoot Opera website.