Not Just for Sundays at St John’s Church, Broadstone.

NOT Just for Sundays is a music theatre piece by Dorset born composer Graham Stansfield.  Inspired by Sir Roy Strong’s book on the history and current state of our churches, the piece was given, I believe, only its second performance in Broadstone last Saturday.

The performance had already begun as we entered.  The young lady in the front row of the choir – was she really chewing bubblegum?  Was she in role or had she no sense of occasion?  I was convinced she was acting (at least I hoped she was) – my companion was less sure.   Fortunately I was right.  The lights dimmed and the harassed choir mistress (Sarah Palfreman-Kay) lamented the attitude of her choir.

Stansfield’s story centres on architect David and his fiancee Lucinda, a librarian, roles beautifully sung by Clement Hetherington and Aino Konkka.  They are looking for somewhere to get married, enter the church and met by the local vicar (Jonathan Prentice).

It is through the interaction of these three that the story of the building comes alive with the excellent choir, most ably directed by Nathaniel Brawn, making a significant contribution to the impact of the piece, performing music in  a variety of genres to convey the spirit of the times – Celtic chants and Latin plainsong to mock Brahms and Victorian mission hymns.  By way of contrast, the musical style of the solo lines was, for the most part, recitative and arioso, reminiscent of Britten and Vaughan Williams, with the occasional bit of syncopation or jazzy chord thrown in – no doubt owing something to Stansfield’s days with the band “Rare Bird”.

The concept of architect and librarian was interesting although more exchange of views between them and the vicar could have made for greater theatricality and dramatic structure.  (Stansfield calls the work a piece of music theatre.)   Whilst the vicar’s rich, expressive voice and fine sense of phrasing enabled the words to come across as rather more than a potted history of the church, Lucinda and David’s comments were largely lightweight observations and did little to give the piece a sense of theatrical development.  Indeed, at times, the sense of drama seemed to be left to facial expressions.

There were some lighter moments and some welcome humour too, particularly in the second half, when the choir’s rendition of “Fight the Good Fight”, sung to the tune of “Ilkley Moor Baht’at”, began to get out of hand.  However, it was not until the last number that the choir actually combined with the soloists, the final “This is your church” being particularly poignant.


23rd September 2013

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