BBC Radio 3, 30 June 2013
Set in the early 1950s, Imo
and Ben told the story of the opera Gloriana: commissioned to celebrate the Coronation, it was judged
by Lord Harewood (Charles Edwards) to be "one of the greatest disasters in operatic history." The process of creating
it involved Imogen Holst (Amanda Root) having to contend with Benjamin Britten's (Paul Ready's) violent changes of mood, as
he tried to complete what proved to be an extremely difficult project.
Jeremy Mortimer's production offered a penetrating insight into the difficulties caused by the collaboration
of two extraordinarily creative talents. Sometimes the writing proved anachronistic - on at least two occasions Holst
referred to the Gloriana project being "sorted," an idiom which did not enter daily English usage until the
early Seventies (according to the OED). On the other hand it seemed appropriate that she should choose this kind
of term, as her principal role consisted of trying to massage Britten's fragile ego. The more he worked on
the project, the less convinced he became of its ultimate success. Maybe this was due to its sheer scope, or maybe
Britten was somewhat overawed by the fact that its premiere would be attended by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh
and other pillars of the Establishment. The play did not provide any hard-and-fast explanations; instead, it showed
how Holst tried her best to make sure that Britten stayed with the project. Sometimes this proved very difficult - even
when Gloriana had been completed, Britten was quite stunningly rude to her. In the end, however, her persistence
paid off; despite the lukewarm reception, Gloriana achieved the recognition it deserved, and Holst managed to improve
her own reputation in the musical world.
Imo and Ben was a virtual two-hander, save for the occasional interventions by Harewood,
acting as a representative of the Establishment. Both Root and Ready proved utterly convincing in their roles: while
the relationship between the two characters was a tempestuous one, it was clear they could not function without one another.