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Academic's original 'East End' opera challenges elitism and embraces diversity

'Clocks 1888: the greener' thrills audiences at Hackney Empire

UEL academic Dominic Hingorani’s original opera, Clocks 1888: the greener, has come to the end of successful runs in London and Doncaster.

Clocks 1888: the greener earned positive reviews and mentions in publications such as The Times and Metro for its exciting story of a brilliant young girl who runs a giant clock that keeps London’s East End running. It’s a classic love story infused with themes around immigration, labour markets and technological innovation.

“I have been really delighted at the audience response for Clocks 1888: the greener at CAST Doncaster and Hackney Empire,” Dr Hingorani said.

Dr Hingorani, Reader in Theatre and Performance, wrote the libretto for the opera. He was also a co-director and co-producer along with Rachana Jadhav, his partner at arts production company Brolly. 

With a protagonist who is an intelligent but uneducated mixed-race woman, a score informed by classical Indian, music hall and musical theatre traditions, a breath-taking animated set design and a working-class East London setting – Clocks 1888: the greener challenged the idea that opera must be elitist.

Dr Hingorani said, “I think that within the opera world, the diversity of the Clocks 1888: the greener cast and the stories we are telling, which are the hidden histories of Britain, are something different. Something, we hope, that people will respond to and want to see.” 

Clocks 1888: the greener was at CAST Doncaster from 15-16 April and Hackney Empire from 20-22 April.

Keisha Atwell, a musical theatre actor who has appeared in West End shows, played the lead role. She was joined by opera veterans Particia Rozario OBE, Dickon Gough and Adam Temple. The production’s music was by Martin Ward, who composed the score for the Olivier Award-winning Wind in the Willows.

Dr Hingorani said the lack of diversity in the UK’s creative industries was a huge problem. The issue generated debate earlier this year when the shortlist of the US-based Academy Awards reflected a mostly white make-up, prompting British actors such as Idris Elba to speak out on the issue.

Figures in the opera world such as John Fulljames, associate director of opera at The Royal Opera, have also weighed in on the need for a more diverse repertoire.

Dr Hingorani said he hoped to be part of a new British arts movement that truly embraces diversity. The University of East London, with its strong portfolio of creative courses, can also be a driving force for change, he said.

Dr Hingorani said, in many ways, he was inspired by the diversity and creativity he sees every day at UEL.

“Working with the students at UEL, I realise that they may not have a lot of experience in the creative industries but that makes them tremendously innovative and fearless in creating and trying new forms.”

Dr Hingorani will now begin work on Clocks 1759: the powder monkey, the second of a planned Clocks trilogy. Clocks 1759: the powder monkey will explore issues of imperialism, slavery and the search for longitude.