I was assistant designer to Nicola Blackwell on Brighton Fringe’s production of Harrison Birtwistle’s Down by the Greenwood Side. Directed by Susannah Waters.
Harrison Birtwistle Composer
Michael Nyman Libretto
Susannah Waters Director
Christopher Stark Conductor
Nicola Blackwell Designer
Pearl Bates Assistant Designer
Clare O’Donoghue Lighting Designer
Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Down by the Greenwood Side was commissioned for the 1969 Brighton Festival and first performed on the West Pier. Now a new production celebrates the milestone birthday of one of the UK’s great composers in the unexpected setting of a disused brewery depot in Lewes.
Birtwistle describes his chamber opera as ‘a dramatic pastoral’. The story of Mrs Green, whose supernatural encounter after murdering her children heralds a lifetime of sorrow, repentance and dread, is based on the macabre 17th-century ballad The Cruel Mother. The opera’s parallel story, a series of fights to the death between Saint George and the Slasher, draws on passages from a variety of mummer plays – the folk plays of the English countryside. Susannah Waters’ re-imagining of this darkly evocative work is prefaced by an immersive journey through the depot, building towards the onslaught of the opera itself.
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