The Water Diviner's Tale, Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall, London

Keats hated poetry that "has a palpable design upon us." Personally, I've always liked art that declared its intentions. This hour-long music-theatre piece, composed by Rachel Portman to words by Owen Sheers, urgently calls on a younger generation to redeem the sins of its elders on the subject of climate change. I found it moving at this afternoon Prom to see so many young people both on stage and in the hall.

Sheers' fable concerns a magus-like Water Diviner who rescues 40 lost children from a storm, only to confess his own responsibility for climatic turbulence. Gifted with extraordinary adolescent powers, he turned a deaf ear to the harmony of the elements to surrender to the siren call of the scientists and businessmen who promised to harness fossil fuels. But, though he rues his mistake, he fears it is too late to rectify it. The lost children, however, come to his rescue and in a final rousing anthem ringingly declare: "Our future will not be our past."

It might all seem a bit pious if it were not for the springiness of Sheers' poetry and the vivacity of Portman's score. She ranges from Britten-style choral writing for young voices to bouncily ironic Broadway tunefulness for Frances Bourne's Weather Girl, who announces: "The flight of the swallow is cancelled/ The waterways of Venice no more." The words come across clearly in Denni Sayers' production, helped by the massive presence of Nonso Anozie, a pessimistic Prospero in a turquoise cloak, in the speaking role of the Water Diviner, and by the tactful playing of the BBC Concert Orchestra under David Charles Abell. The piece deserves to have a long life in smaller-scale school and college productions.

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Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

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