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A CurtainUp London Review
Tobias and the Angel
The opening production of Tobias and the Angel was the opera which opened the Young Vic’s Walkabout tour while the theatre was being rebuilt. It is a show which stars members of the Young Vic’s neighbours, people from the local boroughs in an affirmation of ownership of their community theatre. This production of Tobias and the Angel, billed as a community opera, has original music composed by Jonathan Dove and words by David Lan.
Tobias and the Angel is a story from the Apocrypha of the Old Testament. In Nineveh, Tobit (Omar Ephraim) who with his son, defies the law to bury the body of a dead Jewish child, is considered polluted by the burial. Tobit and Tobias are forced to sleep in the open air. On awakening Tobit is blinded by droppings from a sparrow. Unable to work, he sends his son Tobias (Darren Abrahams) to Ecbatana to collect a debt from a cousin, Raguel (Kevin West). Tobias’ fellow traveller, The Stranger (James Laing) is in fact the Archangel Raphael who encourages Tobias to listen to the songs of trees, rivers and mountains. Instructed by Raphael, Tobias catches a giant carp from the river Tigris and brings back the fish’s heart and gall. Tobias marries Raguel’s daughter Sarah (Karina Lucas), whose previous seven husbands were murdered by a demon, Ashmodeus (Rodney Clarke). Raguel was hoping that the demon would also kill Tobias so he didn’t have to pay the debt. Tobias exorcises the demon using the heart of the carp, Raguel pays up. Tobias and Sarah return to Nineveh and the juice from the gall of the fish cures Tobit’s blindness. Only then does Raphael reveal himself as an angel to Tobias.
James Laing who plays Raphael is a fantastic countertenor whose high register underlines his angelic persona. As an actor he has a calmness which contributes to a feeling of peace and blessedness in his presence. I liked his contrast with the more worldly Tobias, Raphael is tall and fair, Tobias is shorter and swarthy, more worldly. Tobias is full of energy and one night makes merry in a lively dance. I liked the staging of the river with curtains of parallel green reeds, the spectacular ascent of Raphael and Tobias on narrow ladders and the rod puppetry of the giant paper fish. There are atmospheric Ashkenazy dances, people dressed in black and white, Raguel’s gang of four heavies in dark glasses for comic effect and flights of children playing small birds. The singing is excellent, all are supported by a choir high about the stage, and the personal involvement of so many people is a tribute to David Lan’s talent as a visionary and director, with the troop massing abilities of Alexander the Great.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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