The Way Back Home at the Young Vic
The Way Back Home is an opera for children, based on artist and illustrator Oliver Jeffers’ book of the same name. As an event for children it gets a lot right, especially with regards to some occasionally excellent presentation, but by failing at a couple of key junctures it ultimately falls down as an introduction to opera for a younger audience.
The plot is not far off a classroom daydream: after bemoaning his boredom with the oceans and his boat, a young boy – played by mezzo-soprano Victoria Simmonds – finds a spitfire in his cupboard and flies it to moon. After crash-landing the boy is out of fuel and all alone, until he joins forces with a martian in a similar predicament.
Visually, almost every effort has been made to make The Way Back Home appealing to children. The stage is framed by glowing lights and twinkling stars, and the various props in use have been created in a two-dimensional, hand-drawn style that evokes Charlie and Lola and other children’s animations.
It’s not too long either, with a running time of only 50 minutes. The performance should be palatable for even the most distractible of modern youngsters, while the perfectly judged activity book – that also fills the role of the production’s programme – should keep kids entertained for at least a short while after.
It’s the core content that lets the performance down, however. Even as a production designed primarily for children, both dialogue and its musical accompaniment come across as lazy and uninteresting. The music is just far too repetitive in The Way Back Home; there are scarcely any musical hooks, or even varying musical elements to tell the scenes apart. The writing might have been meant to speak to children in their own vocabulary, but unfortunately the language used makes this wild adventure unexciting.
It’s a brave effort – children and opera aren’t natural bedfellows – but The Way Back Home falls slightly short of the mark. A flatulent kung fu fighting penguin is always a plus, but a complete lack of engaging performances make overall for something much less interesting.
Joe Manners Lewis
The Way Back Home is on at the Young Vic Theatre until 23rd December 2014, for further information or to book visit here.