Grand Theatre, Swansea (10.3.24)          

What Mark Llewelyn Evans is achieving with his Academy of Barmy Composers is nothing short of amazing, and valuable beyond riches in these philistine times when Gradgrindish governments are cutting funding to arts education.

When two lots of 900 primary schoolchildren each time (from 23 Swansea schools) gasp at what they are witnessing in a beautiful theatre the likes of which they have probably only ever dreamed of, that is quite a start for an hour of enthralling interaction with ABC’s PantOpera drama of good vanquishing evil.

We had all the elements of panto (“Oh no. he’s not!” and “She’s behind you!”), but this time with all the cardboard characters as composers of the classical period: Windy Wolfie, Hectic Haydn, Charismatic Chevalier (St-Georges de Boulogne) and Tortellini Rossini, who can “compose-a faster than a-cookin’ da pasta”. We had a wicked queen, Victoria Joyce a malevolent Queen of the Night hell-bent on stealing the Magic Flute, and thus wiping out all the composers. And we had a Cinderella, Nannerl Mozart, who has done so much to assist her brother Wolfie, but who dreams of acceptance as a composer in her own right.

Evans himself sings out of a trunk, a cross between Papageno and Buttons, trying his best to vanquish the Queen. His interaction with the audience is superb, and gets them immediately on his side – and therefore on the side of opera.

Behind the performers is a remarkable orchestra, students of the Swansea Schools’ Music Service, plus their peripatetic teachers and some returning alumni, conducted by John Quirk, whose musical arrangements underpinning the whole hour were adroit and apposite. There were quotes from Haydn, Rossini, Mozart (words even to the opening of the G minor Symphony), with the Cats’ Duet between the Queen of the Night and the empowered Nannerl, an absolute highlight. Back-projected cartoons and emojis all add to the fun.

There was also empathetic signing for the hearing-impaired, and enthusiasm in the audience from those with learning difficulties. Evans had told me, “We don’t exclude anybody”, and as his co-lyricist and illustrator Lorraine King told me, it was an autistic child who saw the letters ABC and shouted out that they also stood for “AnyBody Can”.

Christopher Morley

Popular posts from this blog

Jacquie Lawson e-card music

Some Enchanted Evenings at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne