Composed by Damon Albarn (whose ‘Monkey: Journey to the West’ won acclaim at Manchester International Festival four years ago), his newest opera, ‘Dr. Dee’ poses “Questions of Englishness and the occult and things that up to now I have felt a bit closeted about expressing publicly.” From the moment the curtain at the Palace Theatre rises, John Dee’s life unravels, operatically. The Manchester International Festival is England’s best kept secret — even from the English.
Directed by Rufus Norris (think Broadway and West End: ‘Afore Night Came’ at the Young Vic where he won an
EVENING STANDARD award, ‘Tintin’, ‘Les Liasions Dangereuses’, et al), the producers of ‘Dr. Dee’ stretched every
pound to the breaking point — the scene changes are swift and effective. The use of light and shadow an inspiration. Meanwhile, Dee’s birth was recorded as: 4:02 pm July 13, 1527, dead center of England’s Reformation. From the moment that the conductor strikes up the band in the pit, to the Dee’s first lament: “I always wanted to know what was knoweable in the world,” and did. Having a brain could be a dangerous commodity. Treachery was a way of life. Throughout the bitter artistic struggles under King Henry VIII, Dee’s father managed to stay in the King’s employ, but the dead king’s Caththolic daughter, Bloody Mary, had the elder Dee killed. Under Elizabeth I, John Dee’s career as an Artist/Cartographist/ Astronomer/Chemist/Cryptologist/Alchemist/Librarian/Mathematician flourished and he was consulted regularly by the Queen. His library in his cottage at Mortlake was the envy of all. Unfortunately, he became associated with a charlatain, Edward Kelly who convinced him that alchemy could work — if he spent the night with Dee’s wife. It was the beginning of Dee’s spiral, ever downwards. After his journey to see the Holy Roman Emporar, he did time in a French jail and finally returned to England to find his library and his wife wife raped. When Eizabeth I died in 1603, his time as the warden of Manchester’s Collegiate Church came to an abrupt, degrading halt as the Catholic James I ascended the throne. Condemned as a “Companion of Hellhounds, and a Caller, and Conjuror of wiches and
damned spirits,” he: died, penniless, in 1609. Five courtain calls later, there is talk of opening at the Colisseum in
London and, eventually Broadway.
—–MIF Performance: Doctor Dee – Damon Albarn, Rufus Norris.
Palace Theatre, Oxford St, Manchester, M1 6FT
*Rufus Norris* is a theatre and opera director who’s West End and Broadway shows include Cabaret, Don Giovanni,
Festen, Les LiaisonsDangereuses and Vernon God Little. Damon Albarn is a musician whose
bands and projects include Blur, Gorillaz, The Good the Bad and the Queen
and Monkey: Journey to the West for MIF07. Johng Dee – one of England’s greatest but largely forgotten men – as