Pincher Martin opera at Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music

Adapting Golding’s Pincher Martin is a daunting task. The novel tells the story of Christopher ‘Pincher’ Martin, who is shipwrecked in the Atlantic Ocean and marooned on an isolated rock. The power of the narrative comes from Golding’s masterful prose as he describes – often in agonising detail – the final moments of Martin’s life, and his recollections of key events in his past. This is very much a book about words, but in this first-ever adaptation of the novel, composer Oliver Rudland combines the lyrical beauty of Golding’s prose with some wonderfully evocative music.

The curtain came up on the stage to reveal a single figure wearing a lifebelt: Pincher. In a fusion of the traditional and the new – an innovation which worked to considerable effect throughout the production – a huge video screen showed enormous waves crashing as the orchestra’s music grew louder and louder. Quite an introduction! Pincher (Miles Horner) sings desperately for help as he is caught up in the tumultuous waves. With difficulty, he eventually removes his sea-boots before making for a rock.

The staging of the opera is deceptively simple. Since the stage has to accommodate both Pincher’s position on the rock, and his flashbacks, everyday objects are combined with rock – a desk has one rocky edge; a grandfather clock (very important in the book) has a rocky mass; and my particular favourite, Pincher’s car, which is half rock, half car although the ‘rocky’ part has a headlight which glows! These objects are rotated by stagehands depending on the scene.

The music is at times utterly extraordinary and what really stood out was the way in which the music connected the two worlds presented here – Pincher’s rock and his descent into madness, and his flashbacks in various locations.  Rudland writes on our site: ‘I was able to mirror Golding’s stream of consciousness technique with a musical dramatic technique which set up a similar chain of associations, so that a cry for help becomes the alarm of hearing a bicycle bell behind one unexpectedly, which becomes the chime of a clock in a study, which becomes Big Ben striking, which becomes a flash of lightning’. This has a unifying effect allowing the opera to slip fairly seamlessly between different times and places; a difficult aspect of the novel to adapt. The orchestral rendition of the seagull cry truly needs to be heard to be believed – a real triumph.

This adaptation really is a must-see; it contains excellent vocal performances, innovative staging and there’s a real sense of excitement in watching the story unfold. I was lucky enough to watch the show with William Golding’s daughter, Judy Carver, who commented:

‘Oliver Rudland’s impressive and vigorous operatic adaptation of my father’s novel Pincher Martin is a really good exposition of this complex book. Rudland’s music, always dramatically focused but often beguilingly lyrical, provides an allusiveness and thematic resonance to rival that of language. The production was very carefully realised, in a way that was both innovative and respectful of the novel, and visually very exciting, and the musical performers achieved a standard of excellence which would have gratified my father. A wonderful experience.’

The Pincher Martin opera is on at the Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, July 24th-July 26th.



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