Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre

“I’m full of all commotion like an ocean full of rhum”

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (as it appears to be styled here, in case you confuse it with Jedward’s Porgy and Bess) made for a striking component of the Open Air Theatre’s programme this summer. More folk opera than musical, it is perhaps a more challenging choice than usual but none the worse for it, the musical and dramatic spectacle heightened by an impressionistically remarkable design by Katrina Lindsay and director Timothy Sheader’s resourceful production which hammers home its musical strength.

From its tragically inclined leads, Nicola Hughes’ sensational Bess with her substance abuse issues and Rufus Bonds Jr’s impassioned dignity as Porgy, through brilliant support from the likes of Golda Roshuevel’s Serena and Sharon D Clarke’s Mariah, to the polar opposites of Jade Ewen’s impossibly pure Clara to croons the iconic lullaby ‘Summertime’ and Cedric Neal’s sleazily cocky ‘Sportin’ Life’ who swaggers through ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ as he ensnares Bess with his wares, the sheer size and quality of this ensemble is truly something to behold.

The drudgery and tragedy of life on Catfish Row is built up most affectingly by Sheader, as the relentless suffering of almost all concerned is only ever alleviated fleetingly with the cruel wheels of fate turning inexorably, driving the characters to their respective dooms. The marvellous score sweeps up influences of blues, gospel, jazz and soul but along with that stunning design of copper abstraction, this production doesn’t feel anchored in any particular time or place but rather floats in a universality that makes its tragedy even more keenly felt. Simply superb.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd August

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