A rousing tale and a facelift to match

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After two years on “walk-about” while the theatre was refurbished, the Young Vic has returned home – and what a smart new pad the company has after the work of architect Steve Tompkins. The offices are revamped and the public spaces are vastly improved. The compact foyer retains its period tiling, and so the link to the butcher’s shop it once was, but is rearranged to maximise space and has a mirrored ceiling to add a sense of height.

And the bar is unrecognisable. Gone is the cramped galley kitchen effect and in its place is a welcoming, airy, two-storey space, all wood, open brick-work and warm red girders. The glass frontage reinforces a feeling of being part of the community, not shut off. The theatre feels contemporary and sharp, but is deliberately unfinished in places, giving a sense of work in progress. It’s like meeting an old friend wearing a becoming new outfit.

For the opening show, then, Tobias and the Angel seems entirely fitting. It is, after all, an uplifting story about returning home after a voyage, and about restoration. It is also a community opera: the professional singers are joined by local choirs, masses of them, performing as an onstage chorus but also positioned all round the circular auditorium to fill the space with sound.

It is a show that suits the democratic nature of the
theatre-in-the-round. And in the hands of Jonathan Dove (score) and David Lan (libretto), this strange and whimsical Biblical story becomes a moving tale for our times about the healing of a strife-torn community in the Middle East. It tells of young Tobias (an appealing performance from Darren Abrahams), who, when his father Tobit (Omar Ebrahim) is suddenly struck blind, travels across the mountains to call in a debt. He is guided by a stranger (an ethereal James Laing), who urges wisdom. In the end, it is not just gold that is recovered. Tobit regains his sight, Tobias gains love and self-knowledge, his village gains peace.

John Fulljames’ ingenious direction skilfully combines professionals and amateurs and uses every inch of the space. The climax, when the angel reveals himself to be Raphael and the whole cast erupts joyously, surrounding the audience with song, is absolutely hair-raising.

Welcome back.

‘Tobias and the Angel’ is at the Young Vic, London SE1. Tel 20 7928 6363

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