The Firework-Maker’s Daughter at the Linbury Studio – ‘charming, big-hearted opera’
Like Philip Pullman’s acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy, intended for young people but enjoyed by a far wider readership, this operatic adaptation of Smarties Prize-winning short story The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is aimed at 5-8 year olds but marketed at an ‘audience of all ages’.
It’s a simple, engaging tale about tomboyish Lila (Lauren Fagan), who wants to be a firework-maker like her father (Wyn Pencarreg). He won’t teach her the secrets of his trade, so she sets off to learn for herself, journeying into the deepest jungle to find the lair of the Fire-Fiend Razvani. Helping her survive the various trials of her adventure are her friend Chulak (Peter Kirk), ex-pirate Rambashi (Ross Ramgobin) and a love-sick, advertisement-covered white elephant called Hamlet (Tai Oney). Lila eventually returns home to find her father desperately needs her help to create the most magnificent firework display ever seen – cue a joyously rumbustious, spirit-lifting finale.
John Fulljames’s pared-down production is unashamedly lo-tech, most of the action being conveyed via cheering colourful shadow puppetry designed by Steve Tiplady and Sally Todd. The immensely likeable cast play a large part in its success, as does David Bruce’s economic score – which, mirroring Pullman’s non-specific exotic setting, enchantingly combines eastern influences (pentatonics and gamalan timbres) with Western folksiness (an accordion supplies a salty tang). Conductor Alice Farnham and Chroma ensemble ensure plenty of zip.
In marked contrast to panto hysterics, the gentle humour of The Firework-Maker’s Daughter offers genuine laughs around a core of substance, while its inventive, attractive, through-composed music and splendid un-miked voices provide a great introduction to opera for young people.