Noyes Fludde


By D. Dixon

With the performance of Benjamin Britten's version of Noyes Fludde on 21st and 22nd April in St. Edmund's Church, we were back into the spirit of the Greek theatre, not merely observing a dramatic spectacle, but taking part in a religious festival. For Britten uses as his text the unaltered wards of the Chester miracle play, with the addition of a few hymns for congregational singing, included to recapture the traditional audience participation of the original play. While in broadest outline the plot follows the biblical narrative, there are many arresting additions, making for excellent dramatic effect that would have surprised God's inspired pen-man. Thus Mrs. Noah is depicted as a devotee of the bottle and idle gossip, more anxious to stay outside in the rain with her cronies, than to do the right thing by her long-suffering husband and gallant sons and step inside the ark Noah himself is shown to have been hen-pecked but then what honest, upright and God-fearing man is not! Such additions to received truth add greatly to the delight of the play, even though they may not find favour with the strictest adherents to canonical rectitude

Of course there is religious point in the play, but he is a plodder who dwells on it overmuch. Noah's ark is about animals; everyone knows that; Noah and God are merely contingent oddities. Noyes Fludde is truly a zoological spectacular. We had beasts of the field and birds of the air in their droves, though naturally only two of a kind. In what hidden dens and holes in the ground they were concealed before their cue to appear was given, we may never know. Suffice it to say that when the trumpet sounded they began to flock into the ark, and they came and came and only when the craft looked fit to burst did the pied-piper at the back of the church lay aside his instrument and the influx came to an end. There they all were, lions, leopards, horses, mares, oxen, swine, goat, calf, sheep, kine, camels, asses, buck, doe, hart, hind, in fact "beasts of all manner kind". If that seems enough, then what about dogges, bitches too, otter, fox, polecat also, hares hopping gaily etc. etc.? As every thoroughbred animal knows, the correct thing to sing in such an emergency is "Kyrie Eleison". It will not therefore surprise the well-informed naturalist that these words, suitably modulated, but in a variety of Greek that was not without a trace of the local twang, issued from the lips of these reverent beasts.

Once they were safely in the ark, the rain began in earnest. Mrs. Noah played by Christina Browning at first resisted the order to enter given by her husband Stuart Grant, but was later prevailed on by her children to do as she was bidden and leave her gossips to drown wretchedly in the swelling waters. Which they did. The rising of the waters, superbly realised by a couple of lengths of material bought in South Harrow market and four senior boys, was followed by a tremendous thunderstorm. Lightning flashed on the east wall and the rain beat down mercilessly. At the height of this storm, which was most dramatically and beautifully done, all the principals, all the animals and the extra congregation broke into strains of

"Eternal Father, strong to save.
Whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea".

By this time, the congregation felt so much part of the drama that Noah's distress became our distress and we felt humbled and help less before the fury of the elements. But our prayers were answered The storm abated, the rain ceased. Noah sent out a raven that failed to return. Then followed a most delightful scene. Two doves come forward and go through a cooing routine and dove dance. One of the doves is sent out by Noah and returns with a sprig of olive. The animals leave the ark with instructions to grow and multiply and singing, not Greek this time, but the simple Hebrew refrain "Alleluia". God declares his anger to be over, signifies his change of heart by a rainbow in the heavens, and after the singing of Addison's "The spacious firmament on high" affirms that his vengeance shall no more appear.

Those of us who saw this production have reason to be grateful to all the cast for their hard work and very high standard of achieve- ment. We are particularly indebted to our visitors Mrs. Browning, Mr. Grant, the children and teachers from a number of local schools and the large number of instrumentalists both visitors and members of the school who made a most effective orchestra. However operas, even comparatively short ones like this, do not just happen. Our deepest thanks and congratulations therefore go to Mr. Anthony Smith who directed the music and Mr. Ian Collyer who put the whole thing together. That they succeeded in controlling such large numbers while reaching such high standards could be regarded as a miracle of modern life. It is more just however to attribute it to their professional skills and infectious enthusiasm. The writer of the words of the play is beyond the reach of our thanks, but in reply to a letter of appreciation from Mr. Smith, Benjamin Britten has expressed his delight that these performances of his work have given so much pleasure.


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