Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆
Mystical beasts, stunning landscapes and curious characters come to life in The Wrong Crowd’s Swanhunter, a Finnish-based story that’s designed for all the family to enjoy. The only tricky thing is the subject matter — one man’s steely determination to go in search of a wife, whatever the costs, is heavy material, particularly for the younger crowd.
Starting with a group of campers, whose tents wondrously transition between eye-catching colours courtesy of lighting designer Richard Howell, we learn via their campfire tales of a traveler known as Lemminkäinen (played by Australian tenor Adrian Dwyer).
As if by magic, he appears — and so do fantastical puppets by way of mechanical assistance from the campers. Remindful of the hand-spring puppets used in Warhorse, they delightfully jump, snake and twist about stage, acting as some of the feisty creatures he meets along his journey.
A dreadful turn of events take place, something the show exalts through an operatic crescendo from his mother, played by powerful mezzo soprano Ann Taylor, and an emotionally charged, Nordic-inspired music score made up of a violin, horn and double bass with fine additions from the harp, percussion and accordion.
Running at just over an hour, the story moves along briskly. Opera North‘s determination in making an opera for children is highly commendable, as is director Hannah Mulder’s bold staging. Perhaps most of all, it is Jonathan Dove’s music and Alasdair Middleton’s libretto that makes this production a unique offering for families.
But the question remains: will children understand what is happening, and is the material light enough? However, for those looking to expand their horizons with imagination, this is certainly something worth viewing.
Swanhunter is at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, until 11 April. Tickets £8-£25. Londonist saw this on a complimentary ticket.