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3rd April 2020

Review: Opera North’s Street Scene

Kayleigh Crawford reviews Opera North’s Street Scene, which is based on the play of the same name, at the Lowry
Review: Opera North’s Street Scene
Photo: © CLIVE BARDA/ArenaPAL.

Performed at the Lowry theatre in Salford, Street Scene is the third and final Opera North show of the season. Based on the play of the same name, Street Scene tells the story of a close-knit immigrant community living in New York in the 1940s.

Described as an American Opera, Street Scene combines elements of classic European Operatic Tradition with the more modern twist of a Broadway Musical feel.

The cast is large, with a handful of main characters, and an extensive company backing. To compliment this bustling stage, there was a dense set design, compacting all the action and transforming the small stage into a busy New York street.

Winding staircases fill the stage, on which a series of platforms and doors sit; the exits and entrances seem never-ending. Across this scenery, lighting is used to indicate the passing of time, using different colour washes against the backdrop of a New York skyline. The music cleverly changes along with the backdrop, creating an immersive atmosphere.

Street Scene focuses on the lives of a handful of families living in a shared housing facility on the streets of New York. As the performance unfolds, more is revealed to us about the everyday lives of the different families. At the centre of the action is the Maurrant family, a husband and wife with two children who are the primary source of gossip for their neighbours.

The performance switches between moments of melancholy and high-energy dance routines. One of the highlights was the dance number ‘Moon Faced, Starry Eyed’, which saw Mae Jones (Michelle Andrews) and Dick McGann (Rodney Vubya) bring a touch of youthful and lively energy to the end of the first act.

One of the more emotionally packed moments of the show was during the song ‘Somehow I Never Could Believe’, wherein Anna Maurrant (Giselle Allen) reflects upon her childhood and the dreams she had for her future. Allen is spectacular in the role of Anna, making a demanding role seem effortless in her portrayal of a woman who adores the life she has yet longs for something more.

Themes of patriarchy, class struggle, and xenophobia are wound up into the narrative, hiding underneath the action of the performance. These themes manifest in the gossip of small communities, as the neighbours talk and speculate about one another behind each other’s backs, their conversations reflecting the society which they live in. In ‘Get a Load of That’, the neighbours sing their speculations about the Maurrant’s marriage troubles, delighting in exposing the secrets of the small family, despite having similar struggles themselves.

Within the multitude of relationships that are present within the show, it is revealed how even the most seemingly functional relationships have a power imbalance. The women are subjugated to their male counterparts, their voices ignored by their husbands and their wishes refused. One part of the performance that highlights this excellently was during the song ‘I Loved Her Too’, wherein the company repeat everything Frank Maurrant (Robert Hayward) says, drowning out the voice of his daughter, Rose (Alison Langer).

Street Scene features a diverse set of characters and interwoven storyline, yet the societal structures remain in place; women are relegated to the wives of men, nothing more. Within the first song ‘Ain’t It Awful, the Heat?’, Abraham Kaplan (Dean Robinson) forewarns of the danger they all face at the hands of the upper classes if they do not stand united.

A testament to working-class struggle and the struggle of women, Street Scene brilliantly showcases the real and emotive fight of the individuals directly affected by both systemic and personal violence.

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