A Play Upon Words | Auckland Fringe 2015

A Play Upon Words was one of my random picks for this year’s Auckland Fringe 2015 – and I couldn’t have asked for a better evening to close what has been three weeks of intense theatrical activity.

For those who aren’t familiar with their work, Affetto are an exceptional group of musicians and performers specialising in Early Modern Music, and their programming is rich, ingenious and uplifting. Formed in 2010, this ensemble specialises in providing a range of melodies and poetry ballads and elegies to lovers of music from the seventeenth century (though you can hear echoes of what is to become quintessential of the medieval period) and their current production is no exception.

For two hours, in the rustic but ideal acoustic space of the Ponsonby Baptist Church, Affetto leads their audience through a delightful program that features Henry Purcell, Matthew Locke, Henry Eccles as well as Marin Marais. Led by soprano Jayne Tankersley (whose technique is almost impeccable), the skilled ensemble bring to life a delightful variation of English (and some French) music in a style that was influenced through the birth of the Baroque.

This isn’t, as the programme notes tell us, necessarily ‘pretty’ music and Marais’ Le Labyrinthe is a fitting example, taking the audience to places reminiscent of the labyrinth at Versailles, where the composer spent time at the court of Louis the XIV, and simultaneously even further back to Greek mythology’s Ariadne and her skein of wool.

It’s wonderful, not only in its composition but also to see Polly Sussex’s marvellous execution on the Viola da Gamba. She also plays the Baroque Cello and alongside Peter Reid (Cornetto and Baroque Trumpet) and Rachael Griffiths-Hughes (Harpsichord, Organ) their talent and skills is only matched by Philip Griffin’s masterful performance on the Theorbo.

To see such an instrument is in itself a delight but to see it played and hear how harmoniously the melodies can be in conversation is an instant draw card for any lover of traditional string instruments, especially from this period.

Other highlights from the evening include a spirited rendition of Eccles Drunken Dialogue between Tankersley and Griffin and Purcell’s Bess of Bedlam (Orpheus Britannicus, 1698) which is a multi-layered evocative journey riddled with potent metaphors and possibilities for interpretations – fitting for an evening that celebrates surprise and the unexpected across a wide range of musical genres.

A pity that such a brilliant group of artists are playing to a rather select audience. While lovers of Early Modern music will undoubtedly be instant fans, anyone with an ear attuned to beauty and wit with all the variety that must have kept the art alive (whether for the masses or the royals), this is a musical production that has much to be shared with the wider performing arts community.

Their short stint at the Fringe (only one more show tonight) will be followed by a tour across the country so hopefully if you have a chance experience being transported back to a world replete with locals who sang at the pubs to their liquor and their women and Dido, a Queen and a lover, bids farewell to a cruel world. It is a finely curated captivating evening delivered with immense expertise and flair.

#theatre #fringe #music #affetto