facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images mail whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close spinner11

St Matthew Passion

First Published 20 September 2011, Last Updated 20 September 2011

Jonathan Miller’s version of Bach’s St Matthew Passion is a very different production for the National Theatre to stage. In fact, it’s very different to most productions.

It should have a category all of its own. It’s not a concert, as it has more staging and movement. It’s not an opera, as it does not fully embrace sets and action. It sits somewhere in between.

Never before have I felt the National’s Olivier theatre an intimate venue. But with the Southbank Sinfonia – returning to the National after its appearance in Every Good Boy Deserves Favour – arranged in a rough circle completed by choirs on either side, the Olivier stage seems to shrink, sucking the auditorium towards the performers.

Andrew Staples takes the central role of the Evangelist, telling the story of Jesus’s betrayal and crucifixion, but somehow almost invoking the action. With a sometimes sinister air, he relishes re-telling the famous story, drawing characters in and out of the tale, admonishing them, pitying them and watching over them throughout the performance.

Though some of the choral parts had me reaching for my copy of conductor Paul Goodwin’s translation, Staples clarity of performance, coupled with the emotion in tone and face, drives the drama forward.

The character of Jesus is actually strangely quiet for much of the evening, though when Hadleigh Adams does sing, it is with a voice that would inspire people to follow him or quake in fear. As he stands or kneels alone on the stage his face is a picture of sorrow and anger.

Most effective in Miller’s staging, however, is the use of the choirs. Representing baying hordes and confused crowds, surging towards the central staging area or milling around at the edges, they bring another layer of drama to the piece that would be lost with a static choral group. Within Bach’s music too, the most moving moments come from the choir, which sounds beautifully serene when singing unaccompanied.

What may seem like a halfway house of staging works well for this composition. Some purists have argued that the movement and drama added by Miller detracts from the music. But this production is staged at a theatre, the home of stories and drama. There are no liberties with vast sets or outrageous costumes; the piece is performed in casual clothes. Instead Miller adds just enough drama to enhance the Bach composition for the stage, enough to evoke the physicality of this most famous of tales.

Bach’s music has survived any threat to it pretty well for the last 300 years, adding movement and flesh only makes it more accessible and engrossing.

MA

Share

Sign up

Related articles

If you click through to seat selection (where you'll see either best available or a seating plan), you will be seeing the most up-to-date prices. If this differs from what we've written on the calendar, please bear with us, as those prices will update soon.

We now sell our famous TKTS Booth discounts online here at Official London Theatre.

We are now cancelling all performances up until and including 31 May 2020 to help us process existing bookings whilst we wait for further clarity from the government in terms of when we will be able to reopen.

We are so sorry that in these testing and difficult times you are not able to enjoy the show you have booked for and hope the following helps clarify next steps in respect of your tickets .

There is nothing that you need to do if your performance has been cancelled, but we do ask for your patience.

If you have booked directly with the theatre or show website for an affected performance, please be assured that they will contact you directly to arrange an exchange for a later date, a credit note/voucher or a refund. If you have booked via a ticket agent they will also be in contact with you directly.

We are processing in strict date order of performance, so you are likely to be contacted after the date you were due to go to the theatre. However, we want to reassure you that you will be contacted, and your order will be processed, but please do bear with us.

We’d like to thank everyone who has been patient and kind in dealing with their ticket providers so far and we are sorry that we cannot process your order as quickly as we would like.

Please do not contact your credit card company as that will slow the process down and put an additional burden on our box office and ticket agent teams.

In order for us to serve our audiences the best we can, please do not get in touch with your point of sale if you have booked for performances after 31 May. Please be reassured that if we have to cancel future performances you will be directly contacted by your theatre or ticket provider. Our producers continue to plan for all eventualities dependent on the individual needs of their shows and we will provide further updates on specific shows as and when they become available.

We look forward to welcoming you back into our theatres as soon as we are allowed to resume performances. In the meantime stay safe and healthy.