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Meet Me a Tree (Susan Elkin reviews)

Meet Me a Tree: A Very First Opera
Music by music by Schumann, Delibes and Handel. Produced by HurlyBurly.
society/company: Chichester Festival Theatre (professional)
performance date: 28 Jan 2020
venue: Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 6AP


It isn’t often I want to write both “charming” and “brave” in the same sentence about the same show but both are applicable here. Three talented, unflappable performers deliver a 40-minute opera to tiny children and their grown ups. Each performance is limited to 25 babies and at the one I attended the vast majority were under a year old. So there was a lot of intrigued crawling around Kirsty Harris’s simple, but beautiful, floor level set.

An apple tree dominates the space and it’s brightly coloured with garlands which are taken off and returned at various points in the action. We start in summer with leaves, move on to autumn fruit, winter cold and, eventually, spring regrowth. One crawler was handed a tiny seedling in a pot at this point because in a show like this actors have to adapt continually.

It isn’t a play, however, it’s definitely an opera. Sarah Forbes and Catherine Carter are very accomplished singers and Susie Shrubb does good work on piano and two different sized recorders. The music is mostly borrowed from elsewhere so we get delightful snatches of Schubert, Mozart, Delibes and more – all sung in the original languages. The language dimension is a lovely touch because, of course, the target audience is pre-verbal and will hear the words simply as a strand in the musical texture.

It’s a real treat to see such small children so engaged in live theatre. For the entire forty minutes they listened, responded, touched and made eye contact with the singers. The only crying occurred at the end when one little boy burst into tears of disappointment that it was over. You probably couldn’t hope for a better accolade.

 First published by Sardines:
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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