The Young Vic has come home, on time and on budget, to a stunningly re-imagined building, with the gorgeous new two-level foyers and bars entirely unrecognisable from what was there before, except for the tiling in what was formerly the butcher shop entrance. But the main auditorium is seemingly unchanged, though in fact it has been extensively heightened and there is a new wrap-around aisle behind the seating blocks.
They have boldly returned with a reprise for the first work that they went on ‘walkabout’ with during the theatre’s two-year closure - the community opera Tobias and the Angel. Co-written by the Young Vic’s artistic director David Lan with composer Jonathan Dove, it was originally commissioned for a Birmingham church but first professionally produced by Almeida Opera in 1999.
Though it may not therefore be new, it inaugurates the space in an epic way that pushes it to its full potential and draws over 140 performers from Lambeth and Southwark to join a professional cast of 12 singers to perform it. As some of them pour through the auditorium and inhabit the upper reaches of the new second gallery, the show becomes an astounding achievement in every way, not just for its immense scale but also the wonderful way it harnesses the theatre’s astonishing capacity for the intimate as well as the massive.
Dove’s hauntingly beautiful score is thrillingly sung by these huge forces under David Charles Abell’s expert baton, with counter-tenor James Laing in particularly stirring voice as the stranger - the angel Raphael - who accompanies Tobias on his journey to retrieve a debt of his father’s and comes back with both a wife and a cure for his father’s blindness. This is an arresting biblical folk-tale, given a wonderful contemporary resonance.