Bluebeard's Castle
Béla Bartók’s entrancing masterpiece, Bluebeard’s Castle. Photograph: Brent Eviston

Flying in the face of opera’s reputation for being overpriced, elitist, and long-winded, the Arcola Theatre has launched its tenth-anniversary Grimeborn festival.

The festival offers new works and reinvigorated classics in both theatrical and outdoor spaces around Hackney.

This year’s event, a rather grittier alternative to the prohibitively expensive Glyndebourne, is presenting sixteen new pieces of music theatre from the sublime to the psychopathic.

The festival opened with a production of Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, translated from Bela Balasz’ original Hungarian text, and performed in one-act. Daunted? Don’t be.

Following its huge success at the Olympic Park last year, this contemporary production was performed for free, outdoors, at none other than Gillett Square, where a cast of community performers manipulated huge, over-sized puppets through this dark tale of blood, tears and unruly husbands.

The setting for opening night was an impressive statement of intent for the seven weeks of festival to come, where almost every ticket is £15 or less and many of the shows come in under the hour mark.

That’s not to say that the rich majesty of some of opera’s more heavyweight material is not represented at Grimeborn 2016.

With Puccini’s classic Tosca, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri, there is plenty to enjoy from the canon, revitalised for a contemporary audience.

The Hive is a work-in-progress showing of a new piece about psychopathic behaviour and the people who seek it out. The production is directed by Bill Bankes-Jones, who runs the Tête-à-Tête contemporary opera festival.

For anybody who saw the award-winning show Wot? No Fish!!, the closing event of the festival will be one to look out for.

In his most successful work, Danny Braverman recounted the heart-warming story of a shoebox full of his great uncle’s wage packets adorned with sketches designed to entertain his wife.

Braverman has now penned a musical for Grimeborn based on the songs of Labi Siffre. Something Inside So Strong opens in the first week of September.

There are specially-priced tickets for those 16 and under, suggesting most productions are suitable for young adults. It’s also worth noting that many of the shows run for only a night or two so best to book early.

Till 10 September 2016
Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street
E8 3DL


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