Global Stages Festival showcases what audiences have been missing at the Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall’s contribution to the Global Stages festival (a free online festival in collaboration with Sydney Opera House, Cadillac Shanghai Concert Hall, the Royal Theatre Carré in Amsterdam and the LA Philharmonic) showcases the wide range of potential held by a space that has been dormant for months. This one-take film, directed by Raja Virdi, takes the audience through the venue’s empty hallways and rehearsal rooms, apartments and amphitheatre, gesturing towards the national stage in all its forms, past and present, through pieces drawn across genres.
Opening with a short, succinct poem by award-winning poet and author Sophie Thakur (whose words urge viewers to look forward to brightness to come, framed on the roof by heavy storm clouds swooping over the facades of the hall), the film gives form to the transitional period the world finds itself in. A range of performances celebrates “what we’ve been missing” and signposts the urgent need for a rethink of the established canons of the arts that organisations such as the Royal Albert Hall have, for so long, done little to disrupt (pace Mr Shakespeare et al): an arrangement of Welsh folk song Ar Hyd Y Nos (in both Welsh and English), performed exquisitely by Sir Bryn Terfel and Hannah Stone, draws attention to the relationship between those languages and their speakers; the genuinely breathtaking poetry of Henry Stone explores mental health in its broader social context with outstanding thoughtfulness, care and precision.
The younger generation – if they’ll forgive the reductive description – are the stars of this production. Stone’s presence and writing are remarkable, as is the performance delivered by Baby Queen, who has clearly already completed pop music and is generously prepared to share work that goes beyond the radio-friendly three-minute formula in catchiness, relatability, lyrical brilliance and sheer energy. Similarly, songwriters Maisie Peters and Holly Humberstone deliver touching first-person ballads in a pared-back segment in the backstage spaces of the venue, achieving much more than should be possible with ostensibly simple chords and little to no accompaniment. Cira Robinson, of Ballet Black, must be highlighted here too: her solo performance, unbelievably gentle and focused, most starkly illuminates the forgotten corners of the vacant theatre with all of the beauty that has long been absent.
Taken in its whole, Virdi’s film is a testament to his talent for matching form with content, and his particular skill for capturing the performing arts. And if these artists are any indication of what is to come from the Royal Albert Hall’s long-awaited new season, the audience should come prepared to take copious notes.