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As a child, I always found opera to be extremely intriguing, but entirely inaccessible. I loved to watch the performers grandeur on stage and marvel at their voices, but in its presentation, there was a severe disconnect for the younger audience preventing me from really following the story. Olivier Award-winning opera company OperaUpClose have spent the last few years trying to change that. Striving to create “unintimidating, affordable and – crucially – high quality” productions they have developed shows aimed at younger audiences which allow for the inspiration of opera in a more familiar setting.
Sammy and the Beanstalk is a modern fairy tale for audiences seven and up. It is a play which combines a childlike narrative with stunning operatic numbers, whilst also approaching some very adult themes of isolation and depression. Sammy is eight years old; she loves to imagine and create the most wonderful things with her Dad, but Mum is away and seems to be gone for far too long. A beanstalk begins growing outside their window, and as it grows their flat begins to shrink. With Sammy’s dad growing more and more reclusive, she is left alone and afraid.
The two-person cast of Sammy and Dad is performed terrifically by Abigail Kelly and Tom Stoddart, respectively. Their vocal precision is superb and well suited to deliver the score by Rosabella Gregory. Their vocal tones are complementary to one another and work excellently in tandem. At times it is jarring when Kelly sings – her youthful vibrancy fits so well with her eight-year-old character, but her operatic tones are so mature. This is entirely understandable, and doesn’t detract away too fiercely from my enjoyment of the piece.
The production design by Anna Bruder matches the innocent nature of the piece with a set styled like a child’s shoebox model. The whole space is white, with bold lines drawn on for the decoration of the furniture. Even the sofa (which is real) has been drawn around to seem as though it’s made from card by a child and placed into the set. This is paired artistically with hand-drawn animation which features throughout the performance, showing the growing of the beanstalk outside their window, as well as adding a small bird to one of the scenes. This approach adds a deeper layer to the production, one where the show is being created and performed by a child who is dealing with these exact issues during lockdown. As such it really resonates a feeling of understanding and togetherness with the audience.
Sammy and the Beanstalk is a beautifully written and produced metaphor for what children and parents have been feeling across the world throughout this pandemic. It gives children a chance for enjoyment in a more accessible form of opera, and together with an older audience they can reflect on the times gone by and how we can move ahead.
Sammy and the Beanstalk is streaming online until 22nd February 2021. For more information and to book tickets, visit the OperaUpClose website.