7 April 2018

Coraline at Barbican Theatre

I have no idea where the idea to turn Neil Gaiman's children's book Coraline into a opera came from but it was an interesting one, especially as the music was written by Mark-Anthony Turnage.

I was interested enough to fork out £37.50 for Seat A32 in the Circle. That interest came mostly from Neil Gaiman though I had only seen the film and had not read the book; I had read other books and shed-loads of comics. I was interested to hear Mark-Anthony Turnage's music too.

The timing of the performance meant that I had to have lunch at Barbican Kitchen and a sandwich with a coffee did the trick. I was a little worried but not surprised to see so many children around. I was worried that either they were in the wrong show and would be rowdy or I would be in the wrong show and would be bored. I was relying on the description "opera' rather than "musical" to give it a serious edge. I would probably not have gone to see a Coraline musical.

Somehow we were both right and Coraline managed to keep both the children and the grown-ups engaged. I cannot possibly comment on what children thought of the show (apart from the young girl who was screaming in terror in the interval that she wanted to go home) but I will try and describe how I felt about it.

I loved Coraline.

Firstly it was a proper opera that made little or no concessions to the children other than being a story that I presume they were all familiar with. All of the words were sung and there were no sur-titles to check against. Fortunately all of the singers were absolutely clear and could be understood perfectly. That is not always true for operas sung in English.

The music was modern without being experimental, and it sounded like an opera and nothing like a musical. The set was child-friendly but then Coraline is a child so that was fair. It also did some clever things as it became one room then another with doors to move between them.

And, of course, the story was a good one. I had forgotten some of the details of the story so I was interested to see what happened too. It was told in a mature way, as all the best children's stories are, and there was a genuine sense of menace about it; that girl was terrified for a reason.

At the heart of it all were Coraline and her two mothers and they both sang beautifully.

Coraline the opera knew what it was doing and did it all very well. 

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