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Belongings review at Glyndebourne – ‘good intentions but lacks narrative strength’

Glyndebourne Youth Opera performers in Belongings. Photo: Robert Workman Glyndebourne Youth Opera performers in Belongings. Photo: Robert Workman
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Glyndebourne has more experience in staging new youth operas than any other UK company. The work of composer Lewis Murphy and librettist Laura Attridge, Belongings examines the contemporary plight of child refugees in a scenario that juxtaposes their experiences with those of children evacuated from London during the Second World War (Glyndebourne housed many at the time) – though the Kindertransport of 1938-40 might have provided a more pertinent comparison.

The company’s education department and creatives have nevertheless taken their task seriously: during the rehearsals refugees and asylum seekers shared their own experiences with company members, while earlier in the year the creative team travelled to Italy to work on pieces of theatre with others entering Europe from a variety of countries.

Apart from the professionals involved, 65 young people aged nine to 19 are on stage, offering conviction in smaller roles and as members of the chorus, entering into both music and drama with confidence.

Among those working alongside them is Rodney Earl Clarke, doubling as Ted in the 1940s scenes and aid worker Theo in the present-day ones; though his voice has lost power, his presence registers strongly. Leslie Davis gives a clear-eyed account of schoolteacher Helen and refugee Hallamah, with Nardus Williams making her mark as fellow refugee Marjana and Ted’s wife Maggie.

But for all the production’s good intentions it lacks narrative strength: a sequence of scenes alternating the two periods needs more development than the 60-minute format permits.

At times leaning towards the musical in style, Murphy’s highly traditional score is skilful but could do with a greater variety of pace. Lucy Bradley is responsible for the lively staging. Conducting members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Foyle Future Firsts Development Ensemble who make up the accompanying orchestra, Lee Reynolds secures a neat musical account.

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Glyndebourne Youth Opera presents a new work focusing on the plight of today’s refugees