Brighton Festival

REVIEW: Seven Ages @ Brighton Dome (Brighton Festival)

Brian Butler May 30, 2023

Shakespeare’s As You Like It is best known for its marvellous soliloquy ‘the seven ages of man’, and it’s the perfect platform for what I would describe as “good old-fashioned entertainment”. And nothing wrong with that.

It’s the basis for a recital of 36 pieces of verse and song, delving into a rich treasury of items, some of which were new to me. And Brighton Festival was graced with stage royalty for this performance. Baritone Roderick Williams, fresh from singing at the King’s coronation, gave us liquid magic in a sort of vocal equivalent of  hot cherry sauce.

Tenor Mark Padmore, at 62, has a high tenor voice to die for – even in Benjamin Britten’s strident, dissonant pieces. Actor Rory Kinnear is currently starring in the film about a Northern community banker, and on Netflix as a loony, war-mongering British PM in The Diplomat. Here he gave us a very varied set of poems.

Pandora Colin shared the narration but got very few gems, though her throwaway humour worked well in enchanting items like Thom Gunn’s Baby Song with its lovely line “things were different inside mother”. The Shakespeare original covers a human life cycle, starting with the infant and ending with second childishness, and the material largely though not entirely mirrored this progress.

I can’t review all 36 items but highlights for me included: Roderick singing the enchanting Copland lullaby Little Horses; Mark’s rendition of Britten’s darkly haunting Midnight On The Great Western – about a small boy travelling from an unnamed place to another unnamed place by train in the dead of night. The magic was enhanced by the train rhythms in pianist Julius Drake’s dramatic accompaniment.

A word about Julius’ playing – it’s a bit thin to call him an accompanist – he added greatly to the evening with playing that perfectly set the mood for each song, be it thunderous or gently subtle: a masterclass at the keyboard. Rory gave two outstanding items – the marvellous Chorus from Henry V where we can see the English fighting the French on horseback in vivid detail, and the sad, haunting Death Of A Poet by Charles Causley, with its wry humour and vicious observation.

A pretty memorable evening all round.