The GGS’ production of Jonathan Dove’s Flight opened at Koerner Hall last night. This is going to be a somewhat unusual review and my thoughts about the piece itself should be taken in the context of what I’m about to write. The basic plot of Flight is, for me, quite literally the stuff of nightmares and by the third act I was having vivid and very disturbing flashbacks. This undoubtedly skewed my opinion!
So what is Flight about? It’s a sort of black comedy that riffs off two real life, rather awful, stories to frame a series relationship farces with an obvious debt to commedia dell’arte. The two real life stories both concern refugees; a man who lived for years in Charles de Gaulle airport and another who froze to death in the undercarriage bay of a plane. Here they are presented as brothers. Then there are the other characters. There are a couple off to Minsk on a diplomatic posting. She is pregnant and deeply depressed about losing the party girl life she has had. There is a couple (Tina and Bill) off on holiday who are trying to revive their flagging sex life with the aid of a “self help” book. There’s an elderly woman waiting for her much younger “fiancé”. There are a couple of airline employees who take every opportunity to have sex. And there’s the rather sinister Controller whose relationship with the Refugee is central to the plot.
There’s a big storm. Everyone is trapped in the airport. The Refugee desperately seeks support from everyone else infuriating the Controller who sees him as her property. In the hot house atmosphere of the closed airport everything gets more exaggerated and harder to deal with. Shades of Sartre’s Huis Clos here. Except farcical elements keep intruding. Our airline employees screw all over the place. Bill has a fling with the male airline employee and loses his trousers. Minskwoman gives birth on stage. We get an aria about a frozen body falling like a frozen star. Unlike what one might expect with the commedia none of this gets happily resolved and we end up with flights leaving again and everybody goes off leaving the refugee and the controller in a sort of limbo. Of course black, even very black comedy can work. I loved Iannucci’s Death of Stalin and laughed like a drain despite the horror. Flight though left me feeling deeply uncomfortable. But as I said at the beginning that may be very personal to me and you may love it.
Moving on from reservations about the plot there’s tons to like. The score is excellent. The orchestral writing is colourful and varied; by turns lyrical and chaotic/dramatic. The vocal line is sometimes a bit dull but it too comes with some lovely lyrical sections. Conductor Gordon Gerrard makes a convincing case for the music. Anna Theodosakis’ production is clever and effective. It’s framed with deadpan bilingual announcements which are very funny and the pace of the action is well maintained. She also gets some excellent acting from her singers. The standard of performance is high.
The standouts are counter-tenor Christian Masucci Facchini as the Refugee and Emma MacNeil as the Controller. He’s a muscular counter-tenor; more Scholl than Jaroussky, and is quite capable of singing with a large orchestra. MacNeil manages the very difficult Controller’s part very well. It’s one of those roles that requires the qualities of both a dramatic and a coloratura soprano and she does really well for a young singer. She also has a quietly compelling stage presence. The other roles are well done too. Maria Milenic as Minskwoman sings well and is most convincing as the depressed mother to be. Colin Mackey as her husband is an effective foil. The most farcical elements go to Hannah Crawford and Simon Gidora as the airline stewards. They camp it up nicely. Alexa Franklan makes the most of the Older Woman; who you can take as hilarious or rather pathetic as you choose. She manages both. Ross Mortimer as Bill is at his best in his farcical sex scene with the Steward and Elena Howard-Scott, as his frustrated partner, manages to put quite an edge into her portrayal. Ben Loyst makes a brief but effective appearance as the Immigration Officer. There’s also some really good ensemble singing and even an energetic dance number. All in all it’s a compelling production and performance.
There’s one more performance on Friday night at Koerner. Don’t let my hang-ups deter you from going.