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Albert Herring review at the Grange, Hampshire – ‘reassuringly skilful stagecraft’

The cast of Albert Herring at the Grange, Hampshire. Photo: Tristram Kenton The cast of Albert Herring at the Grange, Hampshire. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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This summer, Albert Herring, Benjamin Britten’s comic opera of repression, rum-laced lemonade and rites of passage celebrates 70 years since its premiere at Glyndebourne.

The closing production of the inaugural season of the Grange Festival is led by two distinguished veterans: conductor Steuart Bedford, a Britten expert who collaborated with Tim Albery on the prizewinning Grimes on the Beach at Aldeburgh in 2013, and director John Copley, who here remains true to form in his reassuringly skilful stagecraft.

The action is slightly updated to the 1920s and Copley draws vivid characterisations from his singers. If there are occasional slips into exaggeration, this is perhaps inevitable when Eric Crozier’s libretto, despite moments of sharp wit and lyrical pathos, too often makes flat rhymes and over-emphatic points.

In Tim Reed’s designs, atmospheric interiors coexist with Suffolk’s expansive skies and landscape – perhaps symbolising Albert’s potential escape from his suffocating mother. The sturdy doggedness of Richard Pinkstone, firm-voiced in the title role, makes the young grocer more than a wimp, even before he breaks free.

In the final scene his rebellious goosing of the imperious Lady Billows – Orla Boylan, vocally imposing and spot-on in her lurching body language – is a joy.

The ensemble is uniformly strong, but some rising singers really grab their chances: Kitty Whately and Tim Nelson as the fun-loving and ultimately touching Nancy and Sid; Anna Gillingham as a rapturous Miss Wordsworth; Alexander Robin-Baker, sounding radiant, but leching unctuously as Mr Gedge the vicar, and Emily Vine, captivating as her childish namesake Emmie.

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Distinguished veterans and rising talent enliven Benjamin Britten’s rites-of-passage comedy