Red Sky at Sunrise: Laurie Lee in Words and Music

Red Sky Review – Oxford Playhouse

REVIEW: ‘AN ASTONISHING PERFORMANCE. ANTON LESSER AND CHARLIE HAMBLETT IN RED SKY AT SUNRISE IS A TRIUMPH!’
By Isabel Raper, Ox in a Box

Deirdre Shield’s adaptation of Laurie Lee’s much-loved trilogy played for one night only at Oxford Playhouse took place on a simple stage with Orchestra of the Swan and two large wooden chairs, one on each side.

Such simplicity allowed Lee’s story to sing, Anton Lesser (playing the older Lee) and Charlie Hamblett (the younger Lee) READ THE INTERVIEW HERE covering the author’s life from his childhood in the foreground of the First World War, to his time fighting for the Spanish Republican army, and we entranced from the word go.

Framed by a projection of the sleepy Cotswold town of Laurie Lee’s early years, Lesser describes the ‘amber-coloured’ haze that hangs over Lee’s home, conjuring a palpable sense of the pastoral bliss of Lee’s youth.

As Lesser and Hamblett recount with a youthful glee, various moments in Lee’s life, they then step back into the shadows as the orchestra takes centre stage.

The two beloved actors look upon their orchestral companions utterly enamoured, the mutual exchange between the actors and the musicians, the words informing the music and vice versa, spell-binding, while the stale, warm summer air of the Cotswolds or the young Lee’s disgusted horror the first time he takes another soldier’s life, accounted for in the music.

RED SKY IS A TRIUMPH, ITS UNDERSTATED THEATRICALITY ALLOWING THIS MUSICALLY ACCOMPANIED AUTOBIOGRAPHY TO TRULY RESONATE

The delightful musical programme designed by David Le Page, director of Orchestra of the Swan, is evocatively woven throughout the dialogue of the play, reflecting and complimenting the words of Lesser and Hamblett.

The orchestral line-up is made up of classical adagios and serenades with a hint of a few familiar folk melodies. And yet, as the story follows Lee’s move to Spain to fight for the republican army in the Spanish Civil War, the violins become increasingly creeping, the cheerful jigs of the first half recede and, as Lesser describes, ‘The shiver or mortality’ is brought upon us by the cold realities of war seems, which soak into the very music.

Shield’s adaptation also depicts a series of Lee’s photographs as a backdrop to the music and narration projected onto the screen behind them. We see Lee’s familiar childhood home, the village school and later, bleak images of the destroyed villages of a war-ravaged Spain and snippets of soldiers grinning wryly with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths.

Lesser and Hamblett deliver an astonishing performance, the two actors and their orchestra, encompassing Lee’s life completely, the unique use of Orchestra of the Swan a brilliant and novel device.

Red Sky is a triumph, its understated theatricality allowing this musically accompanied autobiography to truly resonate. Shield’s adaptation leaves us aching for the pastoral wonderland of Lee’s childhood, both the music and the words still echoing around my brain, reminding us of the beauty of life itself.

Isabel Raper

To find out more information on Red Sky at Sunrise head to: https://orchestraoftheswan.org/red-sky-at-sunrise/

Orchestra of the Swan and Anton Lesser photographed by Lucy Barriball at the RSC 

Red Sky at Sunrise Oxford Playhouse

Anton Lesser & Charlie Hamblett photographed by Geraint Lewis

THE TWO BELOVED ACTORS LOOK UPON THEIR ORCHESTRAL COMPANIONS UTTERLY ENAMOURED, THE WORDS INFORMING THE MUSIC AND VICE VERSA IS SPELL-BINDING

Charlie Hamblett photographed by Geraint Lewis

Charlie Hamblett photographed by Geraint Lewis