Agreement over theatre in offing

Cast members of Benjamin Britten's comic opera, Albert Herring, who will be performing at the Byre Theatre. June 2014
Cast members of Benjamin Britten's comic opera, Albert Herring, who will be performing at the Byre Theatre. June 2014
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A forthcoming production at the Byre will give theatre-goers a taste of the scale and quality of work that could be in store if the University of St Andrews’ bid for the theatre is successful.

That was the view of the university ahead of a collaboration that is bringing Benjamin Britten’s comic opera ‘Albert Herring’ to St Andrews for three performances this month.

The production draws on the skills and talents of London-based professional director Tania Holland Williams, the university’s Director of Music Michael Downes, theatre practitioners from Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre Royal, including set designer Robin Peoples and lighting designer Tamsyn Mackay, and a professional orchestra comprising players from across Scotland.

The cast comprises St Andrews undergraduates, local children and two young professionals.

Michael Downes said: “The Byre offers a wonderful space not only for theatre of all kinds but also for small-scale opera, with an intimacy that allows emotions to be clearly communicated, an acoustic that will allow every word of Eric Crozier’s superbly witty libretto to be heard, and a pit that will showcase our professional orchestra to best advantage.

“I am delighted that the extremely talented students who make up St Andrews Opera will once again have the chance to perform in this beautiful venue, and look forward to showing the product of their hard work to the St Andrews community as a whole.”

The university has proposed a rescue package for the Byre that would result in the venue reopening permanently for university and community use.

A statement from the university said the ambitious performances of Britten’s only full-length operatic comedy would give St Andrews a flavour of the quality and scale of production which theatre users and patrons might expect to see at the Byre in future if the University’s bid to run the theatre was accepted.

The local children cast in the production are Robert Connolly Brown, who lives in Ceres and attends Dundee High, and Freddie Clarke, who lives in St Andrews and attends St Leonards. They have been double-cast as the character ‘Harry’.

The two young professionals are Jemma Brown, as Lady Billows, and Heidi Innes, playing Mrs Herring.

Jemma grew up in Fife and attended St Leonards School. She has played the part for both the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and also for the Britten-Pears Young Artists in Aldeburgh.

‘Albert Herring’, adapted from a short story of Guy de Maupassant, is regarded as a classic depiction of small-town life based of the villages around Aldeburgh where Britten lived and worked.

However, it is also one of Britten’s boldest, most socially revolutionary works, urging youth to experiment, rebel and break free.

The plot centres around May Day celebrations in the small town of Loxford. As no one can vouch for the virginity of any of the village girls, the locals decide to crown a May King instead of a May Queen. They choose the timid Albert Herring, who is less than delighted but then decides to take his prize money to town to explore for the pleasures life has denied him so far.

After its three-day run from June 15-17 at the Byre, the production will then go on tour to the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, and Perth Concert Hall.