Lammermuir Festival review: Catriona and the Dragon, Dunbar Parish Church

Long on specacle and infernally catchy tunes, Catriona and the Dragon’s long-awaited premiere is an Easter treat, writes David Kettle
Performers Arthur Bruce, Nora Trew-Rae and Andrea BakerPerformers Arthur Bruce, Nora Trew-Rae and Andrea Baker
Performers Arthur Bruce, Nora Trew-Rae and Andrea Baker

Catriona and the Dragon, Dunbar Parish Church ****

A little bit of the usually September-timed Lammermuir Festival came early – or maybe a few years late, as festival co-director James Waters explained in his brief intro. Community opera Catriona and the Dragon had originally been planned for – yes, you guessed it, 2020, and it was receiving its long-awaited premiere as an Easter treat three years later.

And what a treat it was, for the hordes of performers packed into every available space of Dunbar Parish Church, and for the friends, family and other audience members who’d flocked to see them. Librettist Laura Attridge and composer Lliam Paterson had fashioned a timely tale of self-determination, responsibility and eco-awareness about a teenage Queen and a dragon living across the ‘bridge to nowhere’ in nearby Belhaven Bay. Some of the subtleties of the storyline might have got a bit lost in delivery, but this was all about spectacle – from the septet of pipers from the ELC Senior Piping Ensemble who jolted the show into action, to the enormous orchestra of professionals and youngsters under Sian Edwards’s enthusiastic direction, and most of all the dozens of singers, young and old(er), playing unruly schoolkids, noisy protesters and terrified townspeople.

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Nora Trew-Rae was impressively petulant (though a little under-used) as the reluctant Queen, though Andrea Baker and Arthur Bruce were both brilliantly clear, vivid and outspoken as courtiers-cum-narrators, propelling the plot along nicely. It was the multi-tasking Catriona Hewitson, though, who stole the show with soaring, liquid-silver vocal lines as (among other roles) a smouldering, diva-ish dragon and a put-upon teacher. Composer Paterson gave all the singers – professional and amateur – plenty to work with, in catchy (sometimes infernally catchy) music that doffed its cap to Janáček and Stravinsky while retaining a distinctive voice all its own. By its rousing, hymn-like ending and eco-friendly sign-off, Catriona and the Dragon had generated a warm glow of satisfaction.

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