Seventeen-year-old music student Tom Bruges reviews Barefoot Opera’s community production of Bloom
Britannia
, having taken part as one of the choirs brought in to amplify to performance.  

As the final rendition of Ajde Jano (a traditional Serbian folk song) concluded the evening’s performance, it was clear that Barefoot Opera’s Bloom Britannia was a distillation of many aspects of Hastings – both good and bad. This community-led effort directed by Jenny Miller had music by Orlando Gough and words by Stephen Plaice, with a variety of performers and choirs from the Hastings area taking leading roles. 

From the beginning, it was enjoyable to note our real, gentle mayor sit opposite the stage version of a flamboyant, adulterous mayor – one of many interesting characters in the show which also included a lobster, Queen Victoria, ‘Where’s Wally’ Tourists and an inordinate number of seagulls. This indicates just how eclectic the story is, drawn together by the narrative thread of a rejuvenation grant competition.

CREDIT: Chris Parker

This enables the opera to give the many singers time to shine and provide an array of different genres. That was the heart of the opera – great performances. The stage was constantly teeming with people who all gave it their all, and provided an animated backdrop to each song – alongside Queen Victoria’s head occasionally popping out of the balcony. The schedule sheets and Punch and Judy show in the interval integrated your time outside of the show into the experience – it felt brimming with life at every corner. But of course, the many familiar faces to those accustomed to the Hastings music scene gave the show an eerie sense of reality to many of us. 

The storyline was driven by many small narrative threads. An affair, a rivalry, and a lobster provided at least one song and one story for everyone – even if at times some of the music felt excessive or out of place, there was always the next song to look forward to. 

CREDIT: Chris Parker

It seemed the key role of Bloom Britannia was to present many real aspects of Hastings in a comedic way. This worked well for aspects already comical: our abundance of occasionally messy tourists, our pesky seagulls, and of course the wonderful – but occasionally insane – events like Jack in the Green. However, it caused problems when a serious issue like gentrification was presented in a comical way with ‘artsy performances’ pushing out the homeless or when it came to the stereotypical characterisation of a homeless man. Not to mention the slightly performative mentions of the refugee crisis or colonial history of England – followed by a bizarre tribute to Queen Victoria. But this was combated by the thoughtful presentation of the difficulties of a gay character. Overall, the opera had a thrilling realness even if occasionally trivialising serious issues. 

All of this is to say Bloom Britannia quite accurately reflects Hastings. Musical eclecticism parallels our own cultural scene’s diversity; passion is shared between the Hastings community and the opera company; and a ‘gentrified lens’ through which issues of a gentrified town are presented. Hastings is lucky to have a wealth of music of all genres, including Barefoot Opera itself.

The production has been recorded – availability will be on its website. I recommend anyone who has lived in Hastings to watch it, as it has too much of us in it to ignore – both good and bad. 

For more information see barefootopera.com/bloom-britannia-peoples-opera/bloom-britannia-background


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