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Messiah review at Bristol Old Vic – ‘beautiful semi-staged performance’

The cast of Messiah at Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Jack Offord

Tom Morris’ Bristol Proms were created with the aim of making classical music accessible. As the director’s semi-staged production of Handel’s Messiah proves – revived here following its 2013 premiere – this sentiment is far more than a buzzword.

Performed by the Erebus Ensemble and Baroque orchestra the English Concert, the composer’s most famous work is made to feel notably fresh. And the most familiar passages – the Hallelujah Chorus in particular – sound astonishingly beautiful.

Whereas Nick Drake’s play about Handel, All the Angels, concentrated on the complicated creation of the oratorio, Morris dramatises key moments from its biblical narrative. Each performance sees a different actor play The Beloved. On press night Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Nir Paldi takes the role.

Morris presents a community in mourning, often in a grief-stricken haze. Paldi’s role is perhaps a bit too limited – mostly he’s just lying on a slab – but the focus on the crucifixion is a reminder that Handel’s Messiah was intended for Easter, not Christmas.

Rod Maclachlan’s video projections of smoke, fire and blood are at times distracting, as is the awkward-looking washing of audience members’ feet. The crystalline vocals of soprano Julia Doyle more than make up for these clumsier moments however – the music is at the heart of everything occurring onstage.

By keeping both musical and theatrical components pared back, Morris gets rid of the pomp and convoluted religiosity, instead presenting a relatable and very human story of loss and grief.

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Verdict
Tom Morris’ semi-staged performance draws out the dramatic essence of Handel’s oratorio 
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