House of the Gods (2005)
Opera in 2 Acts (60 + 45) with a libretto by Martin Riley
Music: Lynne Plowman | Words: Martin Riley
Cast: Lily: soprano, Ma: mezzo-soprano, Crom: tenor, Jack: baritone, Da: bass

Ens: fl (pc); cl (bcl); bsn; tr; tba; pc; hp; vn; va; vc; db.
Costume Design: Colin Richmond
Photography: Clive Barda
Commissioned by Music Theatre Wales with support from Cardiff 2005, ACE, ACW, the ACW/PRSF New Notes scheme and the Jerwood-MTW New Opera Plan. The production was supported by The Britten Pears Foundation and The D'Oyly Carte Charitable Trust. House of the Gods was a co-production with Theatr Brycheiniog supported by the Welsh Assembly Government and the Arts Council Of Wales through the Arts Outside Cardiff production fund. Toured the UK in 2006.
Nominated for the British Composer Awards in 2007

"gripping throughout... it grabbed me instantly... fine playing from an excellent band and a cohesive, vivacious cast" The Telegraph

"part pantomime, part melodrama, part Brechtian morality tale and a piece of musical theatre which was totally and utterly of the finest modern operas I have seen, chock full of jokes. What a shame Brighton only had it for one night." Brighton Argus

"A blend of Gotterdamerung, a smidgin of Oh! What a Lovely War, en echo of Frankenstein, a dash of Paradise Lost and a hint of Dr Strangelove, with a heady spoonful of Celtic mythology and Victorian music-hall routines yet it works!" The Times

A young soldier home from The Western Front, shell-shocked and traumatised after an action in which all his platoon, including his close friend, Larry, were slaughtered. Jack has a medal he feels he doesn't deserve and a story nobody wants to hear. We first meet him outside The Halfway House, a pub in the docklands of London, where he is trying to earn a crust and a bottle of gin by performing tricks in the street.

The larger-than-life landlady of The Halfway House and part-time tart, Ma is also, apparently, the ancient Irish goddess, the Morrigu - triple goddess of the Celts who, in the form of a crow, would peck at the soft parts of dead warriors. Her powers, she says, are not what they were and immortality a tedious bore. Ma shares the pub with her husband, Da but, behind his back, she has sold it - and plans to retire with him to a nice seaside B&B in Aberystwyth.

The landlord of The Halfway House, a middle aged, big bellied, barrel chested bare-knuckle boxing fan. Da ia also, apparently, The Dagda, virile father god of the Celts, a great provider of food and ale and the possessor of a magic club with the power to brain his enemies or to bring men back to life. Da loves to tell tales about the good old days , all blood and gore, single combat and mass slaughter - much to Ma's annoyance who's heard it all before. He'd be delighted to find a new audience - and one is coming his way: Jack O'Connor!

A seemingly respectable gentleman scientist with a laboratory in the cellar of The Halfway House. However, Crom is also the name of the ancient Celtic god of blood, corn and sacrifice.... The aim of Crom's gruesome experiments is to create a potion that will turn every soldier who drinks it into a battle-frenzied reincarnation of the legendary Celtic hero, Cuchullain - ready to wield Crom's newly invented weapons of mass destruction! Annoyingly for Crom, there is a vital ingredient missing...

An apparently innocent, scientifically gifted, eighteen year old. Lily has lived a life of seclusion and over-protection from what Ma calls "the sewer of filth" that runs outside her door. Lily, however, has fallen, from an early age, under the baleful influence of Uncle Crom, furthering his experiments with her considerable scientific abilities, experiments which he has made her believe are for the progress and ultimate good of humankind. Lil, like the other inhabitants of The Halfway House - is not all she seems...


Act I 1916. The Halfway House pub.

Jack, back from the front and disillusioned, is down on his luck. After being cruelly beaten up by a gentleman who doesn't take too kindly to losing at one of his tricks, he is taken into the pub by Lily. She and Ma and Da try various methods to revive him, some more fanciful than others. Da wants the good old days of great warrior fighters back but Ma just wants to retire to a nice B&B in Aberystwyth. Ma reveals how she has managed to keep the business afloat for so long and states that she has sold the pub!

In the cellar, Lily helps Uncle Crom with his scientific experiments "for rational philanthropy, science, peace and prosperity". Crom clearly has some power over Lily. She unwittingly shows Jack the laboratory specimen they are working on - which triggers him back into the nightmare world of the Western Front. Back in the bar, Ma and Da continue their argument, with Ma laying down the law. Meanwhile, Jack, in despair, tries to end it all. This awakens the Morrigu in Ma, the Celtic goddess of life, death and love. In a frenzy of lovemaking she takes Jack, quite literally, to the edge of death, only to apologise afterwards - her powers aren't quite what they used to be!

Crom presents his vision to Da and a most exclusive audience with patriotic images and a rousing anthem "The Promised Land" . He is creating a drug that will turn every soldier into a super-warrior ready to "deliver" his new weapons of mass destruction. But he is missing one ingredient, which he expects to collect tomorrow, Samhain - All Soul's Day. Jack and Lily enter the cellar and Jack sees Lily become possessed by a mystic power and foretell a terrible future.

Act II Next day

Ma brings in an apple tree - her tree of life . She yearns for an end to her and Da's immortality. Crom has agreed to "fix" the apples to achieve this so all Ma has to do now is trick Da into eating one! Jack wants Lily to leave but she resists. Gradually the truth about her birth and the real identity of Ma and Da are revealed.
Downstairs Lily gets back to work. She and Jack are drawn to each other but hide when Crom and Da enter with a large cauldron. Crom tempts Da to eat the forbidden apples. Jack starts to hallucinate again. He sees Lily as the Angel of Death and wonders if he can really trust her.

Midnight approaches. Crom is completing his preparations. Da enters eating the forbidden apple followed by Ma. Lily climbs into the cauldron - suddenly the penny drops. It is clear to Da what Crom's missing ingredient is..... he needs the blood of a willing sacrifice.

To describe here what happens next would spoil your enjoyment of the show, so come and see for yourself - high drama, heroism, mayhem, magic and an ending that will chill to you the core...!