It took over thirty years for Vaughan Williams to realise that his true ambition was to create a play that was based around the epic allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress written by John Bunyan. It has taken even longer for a British opera company to actually pick it up.
While there have been a few runs on stage and semi-stagings including one at Sadler’s Wells by the now late Richard Hickox in 2008, it is not until now that the first full professional performance will officially be produced. Directed by Yoshi Oida, the new ENO production of The Pilgrim’s Process will finally bring the play back to London.
It has become apparent that The Pilgrim’s Progress should be watched in the theatre because it was always more off a ‘morality’ according to Vaughan Williams, and not really an opera. Still, the staging that has been done by Oida raises many more questions than it actually answers about how well the play is able to stand on its own as a dramatic work.
In this version of the play, the Pilgrim’s journey is traced from the Celestial City and offered to the audience as part of a series. During each part of the series the characters are supposed to come alive, but at times the characters get too symbolic and overly conceptualised leaving very little to the imagination. This heavy development often helps to mute the dramatic overtures of the plot.
To his credit, Oida does attempt to put some of the drama back into the heart of the play by putting the action into a world war prison camp which should be dramatic by nature, however, despite the excellent scenery it does not really do enough to compensate for the heavy going dialogue.