Review: Full Fathom Five, La Folia at Salisbury Arts Centre

Full Fathom Five is an informal performance of a newly devised piece of music theatre by the pupils of Exeter House Special School and The Valley Unit at Woodford Valley Primary Academy, along with members of La Folia. Based in Salisbury, La Folia is a music production company creating performance based projects including unique operas and concerts. Their focus is on working in special needs settings, in addition to mainstream education, festivals, organisations and communities. They bring live music making of the highest calibre to people who otherwise might not have the opportunity to experience it. Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, this musical performance was presented by pupils with special needs, with the help of company members from La Folia. The actors and singers held the microphone for the children for their solo lines, danced and encouraged them through, holding their hands to make sure everyone performing felt comfortable, and picked up pieces of the story with lines directed to the audience. Children who society has perhaps deemed unable to express themselves, proved to every audience member that the passion, friendship and joy that comes through artistic creation are available as much to them as to anyone else. I’ve been moved by many professional performances this year – Lesley Manville in Ghosts, Richard Armitage in The Crucible to name but two that come to mind – but no performance has touched me more, nor induced more tears, than this beautifully fun and detailed piece of work. Perhaps this is why, as Sue Kent the company’s General Manager assures me, Howard Moody names working with La Folia the one part of his professional life he would be the last to let go of. Moody has been commissioned as a composer to write two operas for La Monnaie, six symphonic works for the London Symphony Orchestra, a symphony and a set of variations for the stage pieces for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Anvil, Station House Opera, Bangladesh Festival, instrumental works for La Folia, John Surman and Jack de Johnette. Choral works include commissions from the Salisbury International Arts Festival, Childrens Music Workshop, the Cultural Olympiad, the Southern Cathedrals’ Festival and the National Forest project. He has also written a Requiem with the flamenco guitarist Paco Peña. His conducting accolades are extensive. This all goes to show the unnameable, uncountable way the arts can affect our lives (what arts research calls the positive effect of the arts on ‘well-being’). Over at Stratford, Kelly Hunter was also working on The Tempest this summer, edited specifically for an audience of young people with autism. Her testimonies, which I was fortunate to be party to during a week of work experience at the RSC, were tremendously touching. She told tales of children who never had spoken before, able to speak; such was the power of the iambic pentameter rhythm that flows through Shakespeare’s plays. Hunter used games in her production that she has created over the last ten years. There was time before the performance to meet the actors and settle comfortably in the space and time at the end to say goodbye. You can find out more about this wonderful production, performed in June-July this year at the RSC’s The Other Place, here. Many theatres are now holding relaxed performances of their work specifically with autistic children in mind. Perhaps most notably, The Curious Incident Of The Dog in the Night Time has gone a long way in changing attitudes towards children with autism, as Isaac Leigh has explained. To return then to my point of departure, I fully encourage anyone to support the work of La Folia and you can find out more about it here. I hope to cover more of their work on this blog in the future.