Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

IT is not in any way a budget-airline production, but this re-staging of Holland Park Opera’s production of Jonathan Dove’s funny and clever 1998 show for Glyndebourne Touring Opera may turn out to be a very astute investment. Although it has been a global hit since then – and a student favourite, including an RSAMD production in 2006 – a superb UK version like this one is surely a very saleable asset.

Twenty years on, Flight looks more modern and relevant than ever, for all that this production trades on nostalgia for a time when flying was glamourous and fun. Stylishly staged by Andrew Riley with great efficiency, it is quite superbly cast across the board, the vocal quality startling from the start, with counter-tenor James Laing as the Refugee and stratospheric soprano Jennifer France, as the Controller, both returning from the Holland Park cast. France, like Stewardess Sioned Gwen Davies, Older Woman Marie McLaughlin, and Minksman Stephen Gadd all have close associations with Scottish Opera, so there is a home-grown feel to the show for all that it is director Stephen Barlow’s debut with the company.

The work created by Dove and his librettist April de Angelis, who well-deserves her equal billing, is always enjoyable and accessible but also packed with ear-catching detail. The musical score plays with leitmotiv for the characters and, hilariously, the “magic stones” distributed by the refugee, in his new age sage mode; it can also be blatantly programmatic of emotional states or an aircraft taking off one minute and then abstractly “minimalist” in colour the next. The players of the Scottish Opera orchestra, under music director Stuart Stratford, handle the considerable demands of the music with panache.

The libretto of De Angelis is filled with smart rhymes as well as gauche ones that reveal much about the characters, and even when the tale becomes a trouser- and baby-dropping farce in the third act, the partnership never loses sight of the mythic quality of their narrative. That has been made more resonant by events in the past twenty years, and means this production should have many more than half-a-dozen performances.