Mary Bevan on Philip Pullman's The Firework-Maker's Daughter, at Hull Truck Theatre
Next week, Hull will host the world premiere of a new children's opera based on a book by acclaimed author Philip Pullman Ian Midgley meets the creative cast behind the fiery show ...
Mary Bevan knows what it means to defy expectations. Coming from a Von Trapp-like family of eight singing siblings, the stunning soprano was always destined to make music her career.
So when she decided to study Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic at Trinity College, Cambridge – or "Beowulf and all-that" as she puts it – she knows she was doing her best to dodge destiny.
Admittedly, her fight with fate didn't involve tackling pirates, tigers and a terrifying fire monster in the heart of a volcano, like her character, Lila, does in The Firework-Maker's Daughter, but she can understand the need to push life's boundaries now and then.
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The show, a colourful co-production between The Opera Company and Opera North, will receive its world premiere at Hull Truck, next Saturday, stealing a march on cities such as London and New York, where it will then travel on to.
In short, it is a big deal for Truck and a massive cultural coup for Hull at a time when it is lobbying for capital of culture status.
The explosive show itself is based on a Philip Pullman's coming-of-age tale, which follows the eponymous daughter who strikes out on a quest to discover the secrets of fire when her father refuses to teach a girl the tricks of his trade
Described as "an accessible folk-infused opera for children", it will star Mary as Lila, the girl out to prove she is just as worthy as the boys.
"I can identify with Lila," says the impeccably well-spoken Mary, whose day job is working with the English National Opera (ENO) and performing in heavy-duty operatic roles around the world.
"This show is about following your dreams," she says. "It's a coming-of-age tale. It's about growing up, about forging your own destiny and about friendship and courage – and it's something that children of all ages will identify with.
"I suppose when I went to study Anglo- Saxon Norse I was trying to avoid the inevitable, to do something unexpected," she says.
"But in the end, when I did an opera in my third year, I realised that was where my heart really lay and knew that my future was in singing. That was my first love."
For a performer used to singing in high- end operas such as Don Giovanni and The Marriage Of Figaro, getting to grips with a children's production like The Firework- Maker's Daughter has been a steep learning curve, admits Mary.
The ENO has never asked the singer to interact with puppets, operate oriental-style shadow play, dance and sing all at the same time, she laughs.
The five-strong cast are certainly earning their fees on this production.
"It's hard work getting your head around it to begin with but it's been brilliant fun," says the 26-year-old.
"Most of the time I'm just expected to act and sing, but with this show there's acting, singing, dancing, puppets and shadow work to deal with.
"But it's great to do something different and it's a very cleverly designed production.
"It's colourful and exciting and it will look great when we get it on to the stage."
Of course, the idea of opera can send some theatre-goers running for the hills before they have even heard a note, but Mary insists this show – with its catchy score by composer David Bruce – has been designed to hold the attention of six-year- olds and above and dazzle them with its stunning visuals.
"It's very quick-paced musical with lots of funky rhythms and, of course, it's sung in English so you will understand every word," she says.
The Firework-Maker's Daughter at Hull Truck Theatre
When: Saturday, March 23, to Tuesday, March 26. Saturday, 7pm, Monday 1pm and 7pm and Tuesday 1pm.
Where: Hull Truck, Ferensway, Hull
Tickets: £12.50 adult/£8.50 child/£35 family ticket.
To book: 01482 323638