Tag Archives: Bethan Langford


The Paradis Files


Queen Elizabeth Hall


The Paradis Files

Queen Elizabeth Hall

Reviewed – 13th April 2022



“a memorable piece”


Graeae Theatre Company presents a new chamber opera by Errollyn Wallen, libretto by Nicola Werenowska and Selina Mills, directed by Jenny Sealey, and conducted by Andrea Brown. The performance is a celebration of inclusivity with a mixed ensemble of disabled and non-disabled performers.

There are two sets of period furniture on either side of the stage (Designer Bernadette Roberts). A striking white harpsichord at centre stage turns out to be a model with a dummy keyboard. Illuminated cabinets provide an entrance to the action on one side and a costume rail on the other. A third illuminated cabinet suspended above the band is revealed as the surtitle screen. These surtitles, welcome despite the opera being sung in English, are displayed in stylish fonts on a parchment background.

The main characters are Hilde, the Baroness von Paradis (Maureen Brathwaite, soprano), and her daughter, the blind pianist and composer Maria Theresia (Bethan Langford, mezzo-soprano). The starting point of the opera may have been to bring out from obscurity Theresia’s successful life story against the odds. But the soul at its centre is the relationship between a mother and her daughter.

Composer Errollyn Wallen endeavours to evoke the sounds of both ‘posh’ and ‘street’ Vienna so the onstage band (musicians of the BBC Concert Orchestra) includes accordion alongside piano, violin, double bass, and drums/percussion. Wallen’s style for the piece is difficult to place; there are elements of the classical period (as befits the era of Salieri and Mozart) but also contemporary spikiness and other elements of jazz, swing and rock. A motif made up of piano scales and exercises represents the necessary practice at the keyboard for Theresia to make it as a musician.

An enterprising technique involving a quartet of Gossips (Ella Taylor, Andee-Louise Hypolite, Ben Thapa, & Omar Ebrahim) spells out what is happening in the plot – a form of musical audio description – and moves the action forward. Much of their onstage antics which includes playing air guitar in one scene and some comedic dancing in another is regrettably obscured from view behind the furniture.

Two stand out scenes are the visits of doctors to cure Theresia from her blindness – “binding, pinning, cutting, lighting” – the onstage action does not need to be graphic for us to understand the torture that goes on here. And the moment of enlightenment that follows as Theresia understands she can find a future for herself despite everything, “I know I am limitless”.

The importance of inclusivity within the production is highlighted with the integral roles of the two Performance Interpreters (Chandrika Gopalakrishnan and Max Marchewicz). Not only do they BSL sign the words throughout the performance but they take an active part in the action too. Ms Brathwaite may sing about slapping her daughter, but it is Chandrika who is doing the slapping. The whole company signs together as they sing ‘The Blind Enchantress’ – a nickname given to Paradis during the English leg of her European tour.

The opera is well played and sung throughout. Bethan Langford and Maureen Brathwaite are particularly excellent and provide the most moving moments of the performance. The ensemble combines well together despite some clumsy moments. Whether the libretto tells the story it intended to, I am unsure, but as a showcase of what is possible to achieve despite disability, Graeae Theatre have created a memorable piece of work.


Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Patrick Baldwin


Southbank Centre thespyinthestalls

The Paradis Files

Queen Elizabeth Hall until 14th April then UK tour continues


Other shows reviewed by Phillip this year:
Holst: The Music in the Spheres | ★★★★★ | January 2022
Payne: The Stars are Fire | ★★★ | January 2022
Animal Farm | ★★★★ | February 2022
Richard II | ★★★★★ | February 2022
The Woods | ★★★ | March 2022
The Wellspring | ★★★ | March 2022
I Know I Know I Know | ★★★★ | April 2022
The Homecoming | ★★★★★ | April 2022


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The Rape of Lucretia – 4 Stars


The Rape of Lucretia

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 25th July 2018


“Julia Burbach’s production sheds an interesting new light on the narrative, the characters and, in this case, the audience too”


You know you’re not going to expect an easy night of it when the central theme of a show is rape. Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera premiered in 1946 and has sometimes provoked furious protest. So, it is interesting to see how it fares in the wake of the ‘Me Too’ movement. As one of the centrepieces of the ‘Grimeborn’ festival at the Arcola Theatre, Julia Burbach’s production of “The Rape of Lucretia” sheds an interesting new light on the narrative, the characters and, in this case, the audience too.

It is an intense piece, to say the least, but one that is ideal for the intimacy of the staging at the Arcola. The complexities of the structure are more clear-cut when witnessed close up. The male and female chorus hold the narrative together and they very much involve the audience; shaping the emotional response as they uncover the events. It’s almost as if the chorus are discovering it all for the first time themselves.

Natasha Jouhl and Rob Murray, as female and male chorus respectively, explain the situation in Rome. The city has sunk into depravity while fighting off a Greek invasion and Tarquinius (Benjamin Lewis), Collatinus (Andrew Tipple) and Junius (James Corrigan) are drinking together. While out fighting they have been sexually betrayed by their wives, with the exception of Collatinus whose wife, Lucretia (Bethan Langford), has remained faithful. Junius goads Tauquinius into testing Lucretia’s chastity. To cut a fairly short story shorter, Tarquinius rises to the bait, seeks out Lucretia, and in a bumbled attempt at seduction rapes her.

What is clever in Burbach’s production is the way she makes the audience feel complicit. When Langford circles the space after the rape scene, she stalks the audience with accusing eyes, and we feel that we are voyeuristic accomplices to the rape. We have watched, yet did nothing to intervene. There is a real nobility in Langford’s performance that empowers her character despite the tragic consequences of her violation.

Britten’s score is an acquired taste, but the twelve strong orchestra under Peter Selwyn’s Musical Direction make it immediately accessible. From its mixture of rich tension and sparse atmosphere the cast are able to wring out the emotion. It is beautifully acted and sung, particularly Jouhl and Murray whose articulation leaves no stone unturned as they uncover the action.

It is easy to see why Britten’s opera is perceived as a story of despair and moral emptiness, and often the final message of redemption and Christian suffering seems shoehorned onto the narrative. In Burbach’s intimate production, though, the final poignant notes, rather than resounding with empty absolution, leave us wanting to dig deeper into the subtext and think more about the characters’ motivations. And how we feel about them. It’s not a comfortable piece. But thoroughly engaging.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Robert Workman


The Rape of Lucretia

Arcola Theatre until 4th August



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