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Tutankhamun’s Shoes – English Touring Opera

English Touring Opera specialises in taking accessible productions to venues that the larger companies, usually with vast Arts Council ‘subsidies’, do not even consider, in order to introduce opera to new audiences, which must be the way forward if opera as an art form is to survive.

Tutankhamun’s ShoesThis year ETO’s new General Director, Robin Norton-Hale, has written a short (50-minute) opera aimed at 7-12-year-olds which is being staged at Wimbledon’s Polka Theatre for ten performances before touring schools all over England.

Polka is Wimbledon’s best-kept secret, its two auditoria continually presenting theatre of all types for young people as well as a huge program of workshops aimed at everyone. The venue is bright and cheerful with enthusiastic, ever helpful, friendly, front-of-house staff, a shop, café and spaces where you can “pop in at any time to enjoy our free indoor and outdoor play spaces”.

The ‘Adventure’ auditorium, where Tutankhamun’s Shoes is staged is simply a large black drama studio with low padded benches as well as seating on a padded carpet so that children can get as close to the action as they wish. One of the highlights of the performance under review was the cellist chatting to some of the younger children near him beforehand about his instrument: they were enchanted.

The opera itself, with imaginative music by Rosabelle Gregory, tells the legend of how Meryt (Judy Louie Brown) met Tutankhamun (Keith Pun) and made him some shoes as a present which were buried with him when he was mummified, to reappear when his tomb was rediscovered in the early 1900s. The mummification scene was most amusing with yards of intestines appearing from Tutankhamun’s body as well as heart, brain etc that the young people were invited to hold – which of course they did with enthusiasm! Brown is a superb singing actor, using her face and physicality imaginatively with every word crystal clear. Pun, with his high counter-tenor voice, has the necessary communication skills to empathise with the young audience.

Bass-baritone Adam Maxey played Howard Carter, who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. He has just the right sort of personality for this role – enthusiasm! – and a rich voice: a young singer who deserves to go a long way.

The role of Nefertiti, the cat, is in the hands of soprano Claire Wild, who exhibits many cat-like mannerisms in her portrayal, as well as narrating much of the story. She has a powerful voice and uses it with good effect.

The deceptively simple set, using various-sized boxes which materialise into the River Nile and Tutankhamun’s Tomb has been imaginatively and cleverly designed by Bettina John. Direction is by Lysanne van Overbeek who uses just enough audience participation to ensure that the audience is always attentive.

Musically directing a superb ensemble of two keyboards, ‘cello and subtle(!) percussion is Canadian Erica Gundesen. It is a shame that the other members of the group are not individually credited as they really aid the overall effect of the opera.

Speaking to some of the parents and young audience afterwards the parents said they thought it was “wonderful” and an “ideal introduction to opera which is almost impossible to get otherwise!” The children said that they had been able to follow what was going on and had been “entranced” and obviously inspired – it was difficult to get them to stop talking about it!

If only there was more opera aimed at young people” was the overall view.

So, not only I but also the young (some younger than 7, all of whom were totally caught up in the show) and older members of the audience hugely enjoyed this production and one envies those young people who will see it in their schools between now and Christmas. If you wish to see it at Polka Theatre you have until 23rd October!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

We are taken on the journey by Queen Pharaoh Nefertiti, now an ever-living cat. She will lead us whirling through time between Tutankhamun’s lonely and gruelling childhood in Ancient Egypt, and 1920s England where Nefertiti has chosen Lady Carnarvon as her person! See how Howard Carter discovered the tomb, how Tutankhamun was betrayed by his Uncle Ay and wonder how in all those museums with that gold, Tutankhamun’s story was never ever told…

Written by new ETO General Director, Robin Norton-Hale and composed by Rosabella Gregory.

Wed 19 – Sun 23 Oct 2022

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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