Britten in Brooklyn – Wilson’s Music Hall until 17th September
This was my first visit to Wilton’s Music Hall and what a charming venue for a performance. Already steeped in history prior to 1859, when John Wilton opened the hall, that you see today. It has now completed it’s glorious restoration, but what I particularly loved, is the fact that it’s unkempt rustic charm still remains, adding to the atmosphere in the auditorium.
I had high expectations for this new play, a well-known name in Sadie Frost leading the cast and some solid performers joining her. So my question is, did it live up to those expectations?
The story evolves around the bohemian lifestyle of Benjamin Britten (Ryan Sampson), WH Auden (John Hollingworth), Carson McCullers (Ruby Bentall) and Gypsy Rose Lee (Sadie Frost) in the artistic community at 7 Middagh Street which starts to unravel as World War II becomes a brutal reality. Exiled in America for his beliefs and a national disgrace Benjamin Britten must decide which way his conflicted political ideals lie but the constant parties, doomed affairs and John Dunne (David Burnett), the mysterious stranger provide an easy distraction.
Based on true events, this was the World Premiere of Zoe Lewis’s passionate and thought-provoking play. Whilst the above does not lend itself to a frivolous, frothy evening out, I’d hope for the feeling of four creative and artistic souls living together would give us a birds-eye view of the era. Ryan Sampson gives a strong performance as Britten and engages with his character really well. As does Bentall as McCullers and certainly gave you a feeling of the differences of the social times. Frost seemed comfortable playing the sexy Gypsy Rose Lee and carried it well. Whilst Hollingworth’s key persona gave good grounding to his role.
However, I’m afraid the lengthy exchanges sometimes got lost and as I was sat near to the back, it made it difficult to hear, thus leaving my mind ample time to wander. Especially as the person next to me seemed more interested in holding a text conversation with someone. The lack of projection combined with this irritation meant that the enjoyment was severely impaired and left me feeling slightly disappointed.
It is a fascinating story which makes for any interesting play, cleverly written by Zoe Lewis with an impressive three level set created by Cecilia Carey it does make for a pleasant evening. However I felt that with a more intimate setting we could’ve witnessed something very special. It just didn’t quite have the decadence, the exchanging of creativity and the exploration into what led to these four people to act in the way they did.
The actors did an excellent job, the set was creative, Zoe Lewis has written an interesting story, and Wilton’s Music Hall creates an atmospheric ambience. For some reason it just didn’t quite come together for me. So returning to my original question, I’m afraid it didn’t live up to my expectations but I did enjoy the evening and it’s probably going to find its feet, I just hope it does so in its very short run.