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The Immortal Hour - Finborough Theatre

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

CELEBRATING the exact centenary of its first performance at the inaugural Glastonbury Festival on August 26, 1914, Rutland Boughton’s record-breaking ‘music-drama’ The Immortal Hour plays at the Finborough Theatre for a limited nine performance run of Sunday and Monday evening and Tuesday matinee performances from Sunday, August 10, 2014.

As befits the Finborough Theatre’s location on one of London’s major ley lines, The Immortal Hour is a magical faery tale that draws heavily from Celtic folklore and mythology.

Eochaidh, King of Éire, is drawn by visions to seek the love of the immortal Faery Folk, but in doing so inadvertently summons Dalua, the Lord of Shadows. Dalua uses his dark powers to bewilder Eochaidh and send him down a path that few return from – with tragic consequences.

Combining Wagnerian approaches to musical themes with a folk-like approach to the music itself, reminiscent of its Celtic roots, The Immortal Hour explores fate, desire and mortality in two worlds, as the unrequited love between the mortal world and the immortal Faeries collide.

Following its premiere at the first Glastonbury Festival (which Boughton co-founded), The Immortal Hour was produced in London in 1922 where it enjoyed a record breaking run of over 600 performances. Last seen in London at Sadler’s Wells in 1953, it still holds the world-record for a continuous run of any serious opera written by an Englishman.

In a month that also marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, this production – which restores the piece to its theatrical roots – offers a unique opportunity to experience the musical culture of England as it was in the month that the nation went to war.

Composer Rutland Boughton (1878-1960) was one of the most prolific English composers of the 20th century. He was also well known for organising music festivals at Glastonbury, Stroud, Ross-on-Wye and Bath, and for his left wing political views. He studied at the Royal College of Music. His many other works include the operas Bethlehem, The Round Table, The Ever Young, The Lily Maid, Galahad, Avalon, The Queen of Cornwall and Alkestis; the ballets Death Dance of Grania, Snow White, The Death of Columbine and May Day; and many other orchestral concertos and musical poems.

Librettist Fiona Macleod was the pseudonym of Scottish author William Sharp (1855-1905), well known for his literary biographies of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Rossetti, Browning and Joseph Severn. Sharp used the Fiona Macleod pseudonym to write in a more whimsical and fantastical style as befitted his membership of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism.

Born in Paisley and studied at Glasgow University, Sharp was friends with many of the leading literary figures of his day including Rossetti and Swinburne, although his relationship with some writers – most notably W.B. Yeats – was often tumultuous as many were dismissive of Sharp’s writing, but commended Macleod’s. The opera libretto was based on Sharp’s 1908 play of the same name.

The Immortal Hour is directed by Benji Sperring (Ivor Novello’s Valley of Song at the Finborough Theatre) and performed by Michelle Cornelius, Matthew Crowe, Lydia Jenkins, Kate Marlais, Stiofàn O’Doherty, Jeff Smyth, Thomas Sutcliffe and Lee Van Geleen.

Presented by Tarquin Productions in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre and by arrangement with Stainer and Bell Ltd, The Immortal Hour is designed by Bethany Wells, with lighting by Nic Farman, musical supervision by Eamonn O’Dwyer, musical direction by Inga Davis-Rutter and make-up by Abigail Gargas.

The Immortal Hour is part of the Finborough Theatre’s Celebrating British Music Theatre and THEGREATWAR100 series.

Tickets: £18, £16 concessions – available from the box office on 0844 847 1652 or online at

Dates: Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, August 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26, 2014.

Times: Sunday and Monday evenings at 7.30pm; Tuesday matinees at 2pm.

Also at the Finborough Theatre: Noel Coward’s This Was A Man (until August 2) and Liverpool playwright Dameon Garnett’s new play 17 (until July 29).