It’s the trumpet fanfare and the entry of the animals which gets me every single time. Last week, true to form, I wept at the sheer beauty of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde which I had the pleasure of catching at Hampton Court House School.
Expertly conducted by the school’s music teacher Keiran Brunt this 58 year old ensemble piece can still work terrific theatrical magic with its tinkling percussive teacups for rain drops, feathery tongued recorder to represent the balletic dove and lyrical cello for the raven. Then there’s the quirky timpani accompaniment for the voice of God (headmaster Guy Holloway on this occasion – very apt) initially imperious and later benign.
It’s a magnificently well written piece and, intended for amateurs with professional support, it’s imaginatively inclusive. Based on one of the Chester miracle plays, it needs adults or senior students to play some of the parts alongside an elementary orchestra whose parts are beginner-level simple. You need competent singers – professionals Michael Mofidian and Harriet Hougham Slade at HCHS – to do Noye and Mrs Noye. Beyond that there are six small solo parts for children, Noye’s sons and their wives. An infinite number of animals can be played by very young chorus members because their unison marching songs are mostly on a single note. Mrs Noye’s soprano gossips have a slightly more complex choral role.
HCHS’s animals, incidentally, were sporting the best masks – papier maché and made in their art lessons – I’ve ever seen in Noye’s Fludde. And that’s saying something because this show and I go back a long way.
I first encountered it in 1964 when I was still a child and took part in a production at Sydenham High School. I was a gossip and I fell head over heels in love with the vibrant, moving 45 minute piece. Warmest thanks to Mrs Celia Yeo who directed it. Had I but known it the show was then only six years old, having premiered at Aldeburgh with Owen Brannigan as Noye (and Michael Crawford, no less, as Noye’s third son) in June 1958.
When I got to teacher training college a few years later I took part in another production directed by John Paynter. I played second violin in the string quartet which sits at the centre of the orchestration. Since then I’ve hardly missed an opportunity to see Noye’s Fludde – which is why I went to HCHS last week.
I bet some of those HCHS children, getting to know Noye’s Fludde for the first time now as I did all those years ago, will be besotted with it for ever. And that’s real performing arts education.