Now in its fourth season and running for twelve nights this year, the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola in Dalston once again presents a wide range of work, much of it new, opening with this double bill from the Ryedale Festival in Yorkshire.
Rebecca Hodgetts and Daniel Joy in The Prodigal Son at the Arcola Photo: Matt Jamie
Britten’s 1968 church parable on the Biblical theme of the prodigal son is neatly paired with an 1829 comedy by Mendelssohn, written for his parents’ wedding anniversary when he was 20, whose hero also returns to the family home after a long absence.
Dramatically lightweight, the piece possesses a charming score including a couple of genuine highlights - the full-scale overture, and a patter song for the recruiting officer Kauz, deftly despatched here by James Harrison. The show needs a little tightening but its spirit is well captured here in John Warrack’s translation, though not enough of the words come across.
The Britten is stronger, defining the familiar narrative with music of real atmosphere and imagination. Mark Chaundy impresses as the devil-like Tempter, with a persuasive performance from Daniel Joy as the Younger Son and James Harrison sketching in the Elder Son effectively. Trevor Alexander makes a strong Father in the Britten and shines brightly as the equivalent figure in the Mendelssohn.
Both shows are cleanly staged by Joe Austin in economical designs by Simon Kenny. Elizabeth Burgess’s conducting needs more initiative in places, but she generally manages her fine players efficiently.