Jan Tait and the Bear turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable entertainment, just under an hour in length, and entirely suitable for all ages of audience. The description of it as a new comedic chamber opera is just about right. It was clear that the substantial audience packing the intimate theatre space in the Centre of Contemporary Arts, and containing a high proportion of young people, thoroughly enjoyed the piece.
The vital role of the Narrator was handled with just the right lightness of touch by actor Alan McHugh (who can also sing a bit as required). He quickly seized the audience's attention and from his opening address that attention never wavered. The clever instrumentation provided plenty of interest, with an eclectic mix of styles - atmospheric classical blending beautifully with elements of folk from fiddle and accordion. There was even the odd snatch of Gershwin-style Broadway melody.
The role of Jan was played by Catherine Backhouse - a new addition to the long sequence of travesti parts in the operatic literature. He cuts a sympathetic figure - the characterisation generally perky and energetic - the murder of the tax collector played out almost in cartoon style.
Brian McBride had the challenge of portraying four separate characters. The first three were all figures of authority who had to be clearly differentiated, with a good bit of help from Victoria Brown's costumes. His singing and dancing bear was a thoroughly endearing chap.
Funding is being sought to tour the opera, and for the composition and performance of a successor.
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