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Ivor Novello's Valley of Song at the Finborough Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 16th Jan 2014 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin
Katy Treharne as Lily and Lynford Hydes as David

Music settles the question.

After Perchance to Dream and Gay's the Word, the Finborough now presents Ivor Novello's unfinished work Valley of Song which was meant to be Novello's next Drury Lane musical when he suddenly died from a coronary thrombosis in 1950, The work was completed by Christopher Hassall - who had collaborated with Novello for many years - and adapted by Phil Park and Ronald Hanmer for the amateur stage. Set in Wales and Venice, this romantic musical revolves around young Welsh choirmaster David who is deeply in love with his leading soprano, Lily.

Amira Matthews as Maria, Sandy Walsh as Nan Brewster
and Jill Nader as Olwen Jones.

Nan Brewster, a shrewd business woman, celebrates the 25th anniversary of her chain of stores. A reporter arrives to write an article about this spectacular event, titling the story "Valley of Song". David, the local choirmaster, and the village choir present the beautiful song Cambria and I Know A Valley in Nan's honour. Nan thinks David's talents are wasted in the valley - he is a gifted composer who could go far but David doesn't want to leave. 
Lily is still undecided about David because unlike him she is ambitious and more adventurous: Lily wants to see the world and find the ideal man. When Nan decides to retire: "25 years of Brewster's is plenty", she asks Lily if she would like to travel with her. Lily immediately agrees - to David's chargrin. Nan's "faithful factotum" Gwilim and her housekeeper Olwen are also to come along. The grouchy Gwilim is not so inclined: "Abroad, it's a bit foreign, isn't it?" When they arrive in Venice, Gwilim is very critical of Italy at first but soon the charming Maria, who thinks the name of his Welsh home sounds like a bad cough, changes his mind. Lily has fallen head over heels for the shady Count Ricardo. Nan is very suspicious of the count and hires a private investigator who presents his results on the night that could be Lily's big break. 

Laura Allen, Ross McNeill, Richard Mark, Carla Turner, Katie Arundell,
Harrison Rose, Lee VanGeleen, Amelia Clay and Philippa Tozer

This romantic musical must have already seemed dated when Ivor Novello wrote it. The storyline is very corny and quite predictable and most of the songs cannot be counted among Novello's best. However, there is still a lot to be liked and it is thanks to the Finborough that we get to see a production of this rarely performed work.

Benji Sperring's imaginative production is set on a bare stage with only a backdrop as scenery. This makes sense because fifteen actors dance and sing on this intimate stage and provide all the colour and atmosphere to take you to a Welsh valley or the carnival of Venice. Linford Hydes and Katy Treharne make a lovely couple as the sadly romantic David and the sprightly and adventurous Lily and both have truly beautiful voices. Sandy Walsh is a charismatic Nan Brewster as she cares about her community, supports Lily in her endeavour and transforms her home into a hospital for wounded soldiers. Lee van Geleen, who took over the role of Gwilim on rather short notice, is very funny as the grumpy and proud "factotum", reminiscent of Malvolio. His scenes with the Italian hothead Maria, played with plenty of fire by Amira Matthews, are hilarious. Jill Nalder is endearing as the wise servant Olwen Jones. Richard Mark oozes charm from every pore as Lily's paramour Ricardo Favero. I Know A Valley, a very lyrical song celebrating Wales, and Rainbow In The Fountain are beautiful and memorable numbers. The choreography of Carnival in Venice is creative and playful. 

Don't miss the chance to see this rarely performed Novello! 
By Carolin Kopplin

Until 25th January 2014
Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED



  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 4 years ago
    It sounds like the Finborough has dusted off an untapped gem, Carolin. It may have faded a little with time but still has a little sparkle. I think that this production is actually the World Professional Premier of the work? My interest is piqued because I was involved with the Worla Amateur Premier in Glasgow back in 1986 ... in fact, I met my wife while rehearsing for that show!
  • Carolin Kopplin
    by Carolin Kopplin 4 years ago
    That's amazing!
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