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Review: HOLST: The Music in the Spheres, Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre

In this highly enjoyable production from Arrows and Traps Theatre Company, the action takes place towards the end of the First World War, when Celia Payne is a music student studying under Gustav Holst: both are known today as considerably more than student and teacher. Holst’s story is told in his classroom, with flashbacks to his childhood and early years of education and composing. Toby Wynn-Davies is tremendous as Gustav Holst. He is adept at changing body language, posture and voice to play the composer at different ages throughout the years. His Holst contrasts markedly with Cecilia Payne, played…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

The relationship between Holst and Payne really shines on stage in this impressive production

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In this highly enjoyable production from Arrows and Traps Theatre Company, the action takes place towards the end of the First World War, when Celia Payne is a music student studying under Gustav Holst: both are known today as considerably more than student and teacher. Holst’s story is told in his classroom, with flashbacks to his childhood and early years of education and composing.

Toby Wynn-Davies is tremendous as Gustav Holst. He is adept at changing body language, posture and voice to play the composer at different ages throughout the years. His Holst contrasts markedly with Cecilia Payne, played by the equally excellent Laurel Marks, who is not interested in music or music theory but wants to study physics and astronomy. As the two argue and debate, we start to see an overlap between music and science. We watch Payne’s approach change as she realises that some of the things she prizes in science are equally as important in music. Through these arguments, the two become friends, and while Holst mentors Payne he simultaneously encourages and supports her pursuit of science.

Full credit must go to Ross McGregor’s script: the relationship between Holst and Payne is well drawn out and a joy to watch develop over the years shown, as both contribute to each other’s lives and ways of thinking. This understanding, mutual respect and friendship really shines on stage between the two performers.

The set by Odin Corie is deceptively simple, and looks great in the small Studio space. There is a clever use of a projector to present timelines and to show us events happening in the background throughout the years that would have an effect on Holst. Pieces of the set double very effectively as musical instruments, with imaginary piano featuring more than once. Kristina Kapilin’s wonderful sound design uses Holst’s music to great effect, with more than one incident where Holst’s conducting emphasises the power of music.

I left the theatre wanting to go home and listen to ‘The Planets’ and to learn more about Holst and his life: and I did. Bank Holiday Sunday found me listening to the suite, which I think is a testament to the inspirational power of theatre.

Arrows and Traps present this piece along with a linked show, PAYNE: The Stars Are Fire. This picks up five years later and continues the story of Cecilia Payne. Each piece can be watched alone. Unfortunately, I’m not able to make any of the showings for this second part, but in a sign of how much we enjoyed the first, my partner has texted her mother to see if they can catch one of the showings this week. High praise indeed!

Writer and Director: Ross McGregor
Designer: Odin Corie
Sound Design: Kristina Kapilin
Produced by Arrows and Traps Theatre

HOLST: The Music in the Spheres plays at Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre until 23 April. It plays in rotation with PAYNE: The Stars Are Fire. More information and bookings can be found here.

About Dave B

Originally from Dublin but having moved around a lot, Dave moved to London, for a second time, in 2018. He works for a charity in the Health and Social Care sector. He has a particular interest in plays with an Irish or New Zealand theme/connection - one of these is easier to find in London than the other! Dave made his (somewhat unwilling) stage debut via audience participation on the day before Covid lockdowns began. He believes the two are unrelated but is keen to ensure no further audience participation... just to be on the safe side.
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