Strangest of Angels: Bold and successful production

Marian Poole
Marian Poole
Strangest of Angels 
Mayfair Theatre
Wednesday, October 12


A near-capacity house gave full-hearted applause for a truly memorable performance of Ken Young’s opera The Strangest of Angels at the Mayfair last night, with the composer also conducting the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra Players.

The Strangest of Angels is the nurse’s story, performed admirably by soprano Anna Leese. Her charge, Janet Frame, has become a side story, the vehicle through which we watch Nurse Baillie unwind. And unwind she does in spectacularly realistic manner as her own sadness is revealed. The character Baillie weaves quixotically between carer and torturer, patient and nurse.

Leese’s voice is exceptionally strong, showing great ease with the multiple switches between sung and voiced lines. Her throwaway jokes brought a giggle from the audience. Leese’s acting skills on stage are also exceptional.

Janet Frame is sung by Jane Tankersley. Her voice is naive with suitable lack of artifice, coming into full bloom as she sings her poetry. Her character holds itself protectively and is diminutive next to Nurse Baillie. The role is also well performed.

The set is suitably minimal and cleverly relays the starkness of Seacliff Lunatic Asylum. An unlit screen conjures hospital curtains. When lit it moves patterns of dots reminiscent of early computer printouts.

Librettist Georgia Jamieson Emms deserves praise for her succinct script and for not forgetting the normal lilt of conversational alflow. 

The music is a wonderful blend of something new with something recognisably derived from the 1930-40s French modernist school of the absurd and perhaps from the serialism of the same era.

What makes it all the more wonderful is that the entire creative crew are locals. This gritty production is a bold and highly successful start, telling a story iconic to our literary history. It is a most fitting opening act to our own arts festival.

Hearty congratulations to all involved for a cleverly wrought and highly effective production. You make us proud.