Lost in a Bluebell Wood is a chamber opera about the incredible loss and triumph of SA actress Gaynor Young, who fell 18m down a lift-shaft during a production of Camelot, at the State Theatre in 1989. In 2013 Rexleigh met Gaynor, about whom she has written the chamber opera Lost in a Bluebell Wood. This work is the first opera written including sign language as a dramatic device to enhance the libretto. In 2021 a remote-recorded production of the opera is being designed and assembled by artists on several continents.
The story of Gaynor and her recovery with the help of her parents is represented in this opera via the manipulation of sound and silence, with a vocal/orchestral cast of 22 including the conductor. It features an ensemble cast of 12 playing the roles of Gaynor and her mother, and smaller roles of the father, lawyer, doctor etc. The poetic libretto, also created by the composer, is overlaid with Greek mythic imagery (the myth of Demeter and Persephone), and will be enhanced in a theatre performance by atmospheric visual projections and lighting effects.
Excerpts of this work with chorus, soloists and an instrumental ensemble received a concert performance in Pretoria in 2014, conducted by the composer.
A true South African story with a universal message.
South African Gaynor Young was 28 in 1989 and arguably heading for stardom in her career as an actress. She was the understudy for Guinevere in Camelot at the State Theatre, a role she was determined to play. The Guinevere role actress was ill one Saturday, and Gaynor was asked to act in her place. She was fantastic as Guinevere in the first act; then she fell 18 metres down an unguarded liftshaft backstage after act one – the equivalent of a 5-story fall. Gaynor was lifted out of the shaft with a stage lift and spent 4 weeks in a coma, suffering brain damage, losing 40% of her vision and almost all of her hearing. It seemed likely that she would die.
When Gaynor regained consciousness she couldn’t believe what she felt like – she thought she was in a bad dream and told herself to wake up. When she was taken home her mother was told for the first time that her daughter was practically deaf. The doctor advised that if Gaynor was his child, he would put her in an institution and forget he ever had a daughter. Her parents were horrified and refused to do this; the long road to healing and re-learning everything began. Gaynor had no memory of the incident; she had to learn to like herself again, the person she had become.
Four years after the accident, Gaynor performed in her own one-woman show “My Plunge to Fame.” In 2005 she opened in her second show “Gaynor Rising.” In 2000, her book “My Plunge to Fame” was published. More recently she has had 2 cochlea implants and can now “hear”, thanks to modern electronics. Today she is a motivational speaker with enormous positive energy and insights, who has her own blog at earearblog.com.
This project engages with SDG 3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, “Good health and Wellbeing through Connectedness, and SDG 17, “Partnerships to achieve Goals”. Recently Lost in a Bluebell Wood attracted the attention of the Deputy Head of the Hellenic Mission in Pretoria, Alexandra Theodoropoulou (Kandanou), who has returned to Greece. Ms Kandanou has indicated her support for having Lost in a Bluebell Wood performed there, for example at Eleusis (home of the Eleusinian mysteries), which has been declared the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2021.