Get our free email newsletter with just one click

The Garden review at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London – ‘endearingly whimsical’

Joshua Bloom in The Garden at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. Photo: Mark Allan
by -

Opera, of course, this isn’t – though Richard Ayres has already composed two of them: The Cricket Recovers, a success at its Aldeburgh launch in 2005, and Peter Pan, premiered in Stuttgart in 2013 and taken up by Welsh National Opera two years later.

His works rarely have names, only numbers. But this new piece – first performed in Utrecht in 2018, and here receiving its UK premiere – has both. The Garden, which is essentially a piece of music-theatre – a genre best represented by such iconic 1960s pieces as Peter Maxwell-Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King – is number 50.

Born in Cornwall in 1965, Ayres moved to the Netherlands in his twenties and has lived there ever since; his work is probably better known on the continent than here.

He has written his own text for this hour-long piece where the main character is a man digging in his garden. He digs deeper and deeper, encountering a worm, a wangee (I have no idea what that is either), and Paolo and Francesca, two lovers from Dante’s Inferno. Next he sits under an apple tree from where he journeys into the air, through the clouds and on to an asteroid. In the final section he converses with an ancient bacterium.

Bass Joshua Bloom manages to encompass multiple personalities in his traversal of this whimsical, often childlike and occasionally childish creation. Ayres’ music is an appealing melange of styles, skilfully realised by the London Sinfonietta under Geoffrey Paterson. Martha Colburn is responsible for some witty video visuals.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Richard Ayres’ endearingly whimsical music-theatre piece is brilliantly carried off by Joshua Bloom