Red Sky At Sunrise

Deidre Shields and David Le Page (after Laurie Lee)
Judy Reaves and the Orchestra of The Swan
Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Anton Lessor and the Orchestra of the Swan Credit: Lucy Barriball
Charlie Hamblett and the Orchestra of the Swan Credit: Lucy Barriball

At the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the audience was treated to an entrancing journey through Laurie Lee’s interwar years. Anton Lessor and Charlie Hamblett brought dramatic gravitas to their readings from Red Sky At Sunrise (a trilogy of Cider With Rosie, As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning and A Moment Of War), skilfully adapted by Deidre Shields to produce an engaging and effective narrative which took us from rural England to the arid Spanish plains.

In parallel with Lee’s narrative, David Le Page, artistic director of the Orchestra Of The Swan, produced a dynamic arrangement of early 20th century music to accompany and intensify our journey.

We began in Slad (Gloucestershire) at the end of the First World War to the sound of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending and we moved through Elgar, Holst, Britten, Grainger and Walton on our way through Lee’s Gloucestershire childhood. The musical scene was stolen by Mark Ashford providing a virtuoso Spanish guitar performance of Albeniz’s Sevilla as the narrative moved to a Spain, shortly to become embroiled in a bloody civil war. Lee’s involvement with the International Brigade was tangential, but his personal jeopardy was very real as he seemed about to share the same fate as his executed cell-mate.

‘Invalided’ back to England, Lee returned to the Slad Valley and we moved back through English pieces to conclude with Vaughan Williams’s Greensleeves as the flute and harp enjoyed their moment in the limelight.

Overall, the fusion of the spoken word with the musical arrangements worked to perfection and the credit has to go to Le Page and Shields for their skilful blending of word and music to provide Judy Reaves with such a dramatically satisfying production. On Lee’s death in 1997, The Guardian noted that "Lee had a nightingale inside him"; that nightingale has been given wings once again.

Reviewer: Paul Clark

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