With their second ROH2 collaboration, composer Anne Dudley and former Python Terry Jones have turned from canine opera (The Doctor’s Tale) to one involving the unlikely liaison between feline and strigiform. It seems they are intent on creating a new genre - anthropomorphic opera.
(Claire Wild) Pussycat and Peter Willcock (Owl) in The Owl and the Pussycat at Brentford Lock, London Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Part of the London 2012 Festival, this floating barge-based event is part of the mayor’s Secrets - Hidden London season and will dock in a variety of locations throughout July.
Edward Lear’s poem provides the starting point for a work that fills in the lead-up to the eponymous couple’s elopement by exposing the difficulties of a trans-species relationship, while sharpening up the political aspects of the tale.
Perched on top of an enormous book, the Owl (Peter Willcock) watches as a trio of pert felines opens another giant book to reveal a pop-up set. Smitten by the kitten of his dreams, the Owl attempts to woo Pussycat (Claire Wild) through song. As a prequel to the events of the poem, the story follows the early stages of the romance to explain why the unlikely couple were forced to sail away to “the land where the Bong tree grows”.
After a slow start, in which Dudley’s recitative seems rather jarring and forced, the music and the action become more integrated, and the lyrics from the small cast - several doubling roles - are clear and bright. Jones’ libretto manages to insinuate modish issues into the piece with deceptive ease. And the lack of child-friendly melodies is successfully masked by the performance concepts, which include a pair of handbag-wielding Mary Whitehouse cats from the “League of Feline Decency”, a Turkey Elvis impersonator waiting for the first couple to arrive at his wedding chapel and a Bong tree - complete with gong - who yearns to see the world but can’t because he is rooted to the spot.
The production ends as the poem begins, with the strangely touching sight of the Owl and the Pussycat stepping off the barge into a pea-green boat, rowing up the canal and sailing out of sight.
Some kids might be disappointed at the absence of the silvery moon at the end of the show, but not even the Mayor of London can control everything.