We had a real treat during the first week of the Easter holidays. We were invited to see a new opera for families by the UK’s leading touring opera company, English Touring Opera. Not only was this our first outing to see and hear opera together, the children and I, but it was a perfect reason to return to the incredible venue that is Wilton’s Music Hall.
The show is called Silver Electra and deals with the fascinating idea about what might have happened to the aviator Amelia Earhart, the first female to fly across the Atlantic ocean. She vanished during an attempt to circumnavigate the world in 1937, when she was flying in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra (nicknamed Silver Electra). As she was such a celebrity at the time, and as there was no trace of her after the navigators lost radio contact with her on 2nd July 1937, there has been much speculation about what may have happened. This show takes us on a time travelling journey to 1977 Australia and plants the idea that she may have assumed a new, anonymous identity there.
In 1970’s Australia, we meet Bindi Johnson (Vanessa Bowers), her mother Milly (Susan Moore), Bindi’s son Noah (Felix Kemp) and Bindi’s boyfriend Darrel (Alex Veary-Roberts). Milly seems a bit unwell and lost and at her doctor’s appointment Bindi is told about a new disease called Alzheimer’s. Milly (which, along with Meeley, was also the nickname given to Amelia Earhart) spends a lot of time watching contrails in the sky above her head, yet she seems to be afraid of flying…
We go back in time to Earhart’s earlier years (with the cast all playing dual roles if not more), and find out about how Amelia first met Netta Snook her flying teacher and told her “I want to fly!” On stage they create a big plane out of what seems like a few large cardboard boxes and even with a plane on her head, the singing continues to be amazing! After the tense scene when Silver Electra has disappeared, we go back to Australia where Milly has gone missing. Noah eventually finds her, and guess what, she is in a plane. “I remember this!” she says, joyful to have rediscovered her happy place.
The production is so successful because it really treats the children in the audience with respect. It does not speak down to them but instead it involves them nicely in the action – for instance, giving the girl sitting in the front row the rope that pulls the sledge along or trustingly giving out cameras to a row of school children so that they could pretend to be reporters; it helps them understand what is happening with a nice introduction before the play starts about the main themes; we were also lucky enough to have a chance for some questions and answers after the show. I’m not sure if the Q&A session is always possible, but it provided the arena for such burning questions as ‘were you wearing a wig?’ and it was a lovely opportunity for the kids in the audience to speak to the performers they have just seen on stage.
The second success comes from the fantastic singing by the four-strong cast. At first it takes time to become accustomed to this, but all the action is sung. This is not a type of operatic singing which is warbly and unintelligible, as a first-timer might imagine, it is perfectly enunciated so that every word can be heard, which is of course essential when telling a story. Our cast was engaging, funny, and boy do they have powerful voices!
Of course the creative team behind the show is to be fully congratulated. The composer, Russell Hepplewhite, the librettist/director Tim Yealland and the MD of the brilliant live band, Jack Ridley. I was intrigued to find out in the Q&A afterwards that the percussion player Jonny Raper had actually designed and built a new instrument to make the noise of the plane propellors. This was just one innovative, magical part of Silver Electra out of many. We were delighted to see this gorgeous show, fascinated by the story and the imagination of what could have happened to this incredible figure from real life, and thrilled to watch it at this most historic venue in the East End. Imagine our excitement on top of everything to receive our own special Silver Electra souvenirs to take home with us.
hattydaze rating: ****/*****