Review: Cautionary Tales ****

Cautionary Tales
Cautionary Tales
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At Howard Assembly Room

IT’S a venue known more for its various unconventional, adult events but here is a venture offering something for a younger audience – though no less challenging.

Cautionary Tales is an operatic interpretation of Hilaire Belloc’s salutary stories warning youngsters of the dangers of not doing what you’re told.

Which may not sound terrible new, but you’re unlikely to have seen a presentation quite as off-the-wall as this, which is a joint work between Opera North, composer Errollyn Wallen and director Pia Furtado.

With seating flanking the floor of the Howard Assembly Room, the team of four actors/singers perform just inches away from the audience. They are so close, in fact that you feel part of the action.

At times this is rather unsettling since most of the tales take place in a space formed by a classroom, with desks used to spontaneously form makeshift sets, and

four sinister teachers ready to teach onlookers a series of very stark lessons.

Lesson one is learning from the mistakes of doomed, door-slamming Rebecca, then we move onto the little boy who strayed from his mother’s side and was eaten by a lion, perhaps the little girl who cried wolf and was burned to death.

It’s actually pretty gruesome stuff, yet simultaneously very funny and highly inventive.

The production employs a small group of musicians, fantastic lighting and the ingenious use of props and costumes.

Sung in English and less than 60 minutes long, this is an intentionally family-friendly production and example of the spectrum of creations hosted by the Howard Assembly Room and why this venue is such a gem in our cultural offering. Cautionary Tales lasted just a few days, but there’s plenty more productions in the programme.

ROD McPhee

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