Wagner's Siegfried
Arcola Theatre production, as part of Grimeborn Opera Festival, at the Hackney Empire
Saturday, August 6

Everything about Wagner seems to go on for ages.

It was 14 years from Wagner’s first head scratch to Siegfried’s first curtain and, at 4½ hours, it is not even the longest of the four parts of the Ring Cycle.

This production by the Arcola Theatre, paired with Götterdämmerung at the welcoming Hackney Empire, is part of this year’s excellent and ambitious Grimeborn Festival. It completes a Ring Cycle which commenced last year.

Director Julia Burbach has cut the work down to a manageable two hours that flew past.

She gave her production team licence to create a wonderfully steam-punk, flexible set, clever and effective lighting, and costumes that crossed the line into special effects.

That said, I was hoping for something a tad darker and more satanic than the re-purposed garden leaf burner that served as a stand-in furnace – no wonder smithy Mime had trouble smelting the shards of Siegmund’s sword.

Although the Ring is ever associated with the Nazis, Julia’s interpretation does much to weaken the link.

Instead of the epic that so underpinned the perverted idea of a master race, she presents Siegfried’s quest for identity, the power his father’s sword will bring and for “…a real friend” as a portrait of a rather inadequate man burdened with loneliness and self-doubt.

Her direction is reminiscent of the works of Beckett. The nobility of Siegfried’s cause in a world of epic super-heroes and gods from a never-never land has been set aside in favour of something closer to a Pilgrim’s Progress.

His dysfunctional relationship with Colin Judson’s fantastic Mime becomes a frustrating and long-lasting love-hate Steptoe and Son symbiosis.

Hackney Gazette: Arcola Theatre's production of Siegfried at the Hackney EmpireArcola Theatre's production of Siegfried at the Hackney Empire (Image: Alex Brenner)

Paul Carey Jones was simply magnificent as the enigmatic Wanderer and Mae Heydorn’s awaking as Erda was electrifying.

Neal Cooper perfectly walked the line, veering away from bombast and discovering the pathos in his Siegfried.

Orpheus Sinfonia’s accompaniment was a great choice. Under Peter Selwyn, the young members of the ensemble brought majesty, lyricism, and humour.

None of the theatricality or superb music has been compromised and the afternoon was full of superb performances.

More next year please.