Coliseum, London, November 5-28
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Director: Yoshi Oïda
Conductor: Martyn Brabbins
gay glitterati (Rufus and... me) turned out for ENO’s brave new production of
Vaughan William’s “Morality” opera The Pilgrim’s Progress. A Pilgrim faces
trials as he goes through a spiritual and physical journey “from this this
world to that which is to come”. It’s brave because this is rarely staged,
reading more like a Cathedral sermon than a dramatic affair. So what better way
to tackle this than employ Yoshi Oïda, veteran auteur of intercultural performance,
his experience with early Buddhist works like The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and
Sufi-Islam inspired Conference of the Birds, the 79 year old Japanese man takes
the Christian traditions and turns them into something more universally
spiritual, appealing to a wider audience, as verbal prayers to God are matched
with Eastern physical rituals, dance and fire.
source of the work is John Bunyan’s dreamlike prose, which he wrote in the 17th
century after being imprisoned for preaching without a license. But Vaughan
Williams, although he wrote many religious works, was openly agnostic, and so
his omission of direct references to Jesus help steer us along the path of
mysticism rather than dogma.
music is genuinely stirring, and the performers have clearly trained hard in a
range of practices including Noh, but the ideas are greater than the execution
and at times this show becomes scrappy. While the framing of the lonely prison
scenes are convincing, the terrible Bunraku puppetry on offer when our hero
fights a large demon lacks any expression. The infamous Vanity Fair scene,
which is a den of vice, is lazily full of cabaret types and provides no real
moral challenge - it just looks like the chorus are having some camp fun. There
are also some hastily inserted images of war, which at this time feel crass.
an interesting piece in its own right, but requires more meditation and less
(*** Three stars) A traditional morality tale is given a spiritual makeover,
landing somewhere between thought-provoking and muddlesome.
Photography credit: Mike Hoban