Sam Bell and Keith Hill.
Sam Bell and Keith Hill.
© John Harding

Anyone expecting Robin Brooks' Britten's Got Talent to be a straightforward show about one of this year's musical centenaries is likely to be bewildered. It has original music by Damian Evans and Matt Sheeran but we hear none of Britten's own, though the waft of Mahler links Mann's novella, Britten's operatic version and the Visconti-Bogarde film of Death in Venice.

It will help your understanding of this slightly surreal cabaret-style riff on home-grown genius if you know something about Britten's life and loves as well as the people who flowed in and across them. Evans' songs aren't always put over as clearly as Brooke's clever line-end rhymes merit.

The jaunty choreography for these numbers is by Louisa McAlpine. Keith Hill makes a believable Britten with the right sort of body tension, though he doesn't attempt a physical resemblance through make-up. Sam Dale, on the other hand, as a sort of other-worldly nemesis, is skull-faced and black-clad.

Gilian Cally plays Joy, a woman who has lost her assured place in society through her husband's retirement and, as we learn, also her son Marcus (Joseph Reed). Joy stands for all the women who floated on the outskirts of the "court of King Ben".

Reed and the assured Sam Bell represent the pre-pubescent boys whose youth and innocence Britten by all accounts coveted and identified with. Jonathan Hansler as both Britten's seen-it-all housekeeper and Peter Pears suggests that familiarity can indeed breed contempt.

Britten's Got Talent continues at the New Wolsey Theatre Studio until 23 November.