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  • Alistair Braidwood

Musical Youth: A Review of Scottish Opera Young Company's Maud & Down In The Valley...

Scottish Opera's Young Company productions are always a chance to glimpse the future, and perhaps identify performers who will go on to make their mark. They're also highly enjoyable events in their own right.

The latest is an intriguing double-bill, with two ostensibly very different pieces sharing a cast - Henry McPherson's Maud and Kurt Weill (and librettist Arnold Sundgaard)'s folk opera Down In The Valley. However, dramatically they both share a dark heart, with justice overlooked as mobs rule and individuals wishes and dreams are railroaded to appease the masses.

Maud taps into our nightmares and fear of the fantastical. There are echoes of rural horror movies such as Midsommar, Pan's Labyrinth, and even Alex Garland's disturbing Men (there are multiple Mauds on show which adds to the audience's discombobulation). But there are also nods to more classic fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood and the Border ballad Tam LIn.

Having cast members scattered among the crowd immediately had audience members engaged, and slightly uneasy, as the voices of the forest and the fairies who live there are all around, heightening expectations as to what was to come. The opening scenes ramp up those feelings of unease as the best dark tales do. With the woodland creatures watching on, Maud wanders the woods thinking about the fairy tales she has been told before coming across a curious creature. What follows is a stark reminder that people fear what they don't understand, and that stories have a power which can be destructive when used for an individual's agenda.

Down In The Valley seamlessly becomes the second act - the cast reconfiguring the set as part of the performance. We are transported to the Appalachians where the magnificently monikered Brack Weaver awaits execution in the morning after being judged guilty of murdering Thomas Bouché. Brack is determined to escape, even if only for one night, to see his beloved Jennie one last time. There are flashbacks to tell the story leading up to his incarceration, and the action moves from jailhouse to homesteads, from church service to barn dance (where hope turns to horror) before a pitchfork carrying manhunt ensues, with cast members again weaving their way through the audience, as events move towards what feels like the inevitable.

Scottish Opera Young Company - 📸 credit Sally Jubb

The cast work as an ensemble in the truest sense of the word, with everyone getting their time to shine, and to single anyone out seems beside the point. These are performers supporting each other, and supported by the wider company, each bringing the best out of the other.

If you get the chance to attend one of the Scottish Opera's Young Company productions then I advise you to take it as they are of the highest quality with no corners cut. It's reassuring to see that the care and attention to detail, and invention, which is a hallmark of Scottish Opera runs from the big tentpole productions for which they are famed, to the youth productions and smaller venues. It's also heart-warming to know that the future of Scottish Opera remains bright and brilliant.


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