The Way to the Sea

I find myself of one mind with the readers of Bizarre, who in 2003 voted Thorpeness Britain's weirdest village. The brainchild of an Edwardian landowner who sought to sculpt a garden suburb-on-sea, the village, with its Tudorbethan residences and a Peter Pan-themed boating lake, provided the setting, or rather set, for this interactive performance of Britten songs and piano pieces from the 1930s. Centred on the early cycle of Auden poems, On This Island, the production by Netia Jones and Pippa Nissen also used loops from the 1936 documentary The Way to the Sea, to which Auden and Britten both contributed.

The results can be summed up in three words: brilliant, brilliant and brilliant. And very funny. The outside portions consisted of a walk through the village and along the beach, punctuated by clipped cries of "Damnation" from a golfer whose ball was evidently lost in the pages of some PG Wodehouse story. Four canary-yellow tennis players were meanwhile trapped in a repeating cycle of "dyooce" and "vantage", while a commuter waited, out on the lake, to board his train. It succeeded beautifully in conjuring the mingled compassion and condescension that permeated Auden and Britten's nostalgic socialism.

The main event was the concluding recital, which placed tenor Alan Oke – accompanied by the excellent Christopher Glynn – in character as one of the "bald young clerks" Betjeman sought to save from Slough. Performing in front of a postcard video backdrop, Oke sang with wit and vigour, the odd intonation wobble failing to dismantle the spectacle of the clerk leaving his "talk of sport and makes of cars/ In various bogus Tudor bars", to dare to "look up, and see the stars".

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