The King’s Head is rapidly becoming my favourite fringe venue. As a pub theatre it works perfectly with the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the front bar leading into the snugly intimate theatre behind. This company makes full and innovative use of the entire venue, resulting in a production that sits on the cutting edge of the modern classical music scene; this is fringe opera at its finest.
The collaborative effort of director Rodula Gaitanou and librettist Ben Cooper, assisted by input from the actors themselves, has brought about an entirely fresh take on this classic opera. With the story set in North London and centring round a gang of thieves, the audience could not help but feel very much part of the action. Christina Gill’s Carmen was at all times technically sound yet emotionally aware; a balance that is difficult to strike for any actor. Her chemistry with Jose (Christopher Diffey) was a highlight of all the interactions that took place, most notably the opera’s tragic denouement, which left me feeling appropriately uncomfortable. As a pairing their voices complimented each other splendidly, frequently producing effective moments of raw emotion. It was the duos that appeared to be the highlight of the show’s casting, as Mercedes (Olivia Barry) and Frasquita (Fleur de Bray) captured a much-needed comic essence. These ladies really took their chance to shine in their extended duet scene in the second act, receiving an uproarious reception from the audience with their carefully timed gags.
The expansive orchestral score was beautifully reduced to accompaniment by piano and Spanish guitar. Musical Director Elspeth Wilkes set at the helm playing the piano with remarkable technical skill and sensitivity, which was complimented soothingly by Rosie Hopkins’ fine guitar playing.
OperaUpClose continues to live up to its Whatsonstage and Olivier award billing with this daring production. This was highbrow opera revitalised by a refreshing reinterpretation at absolutely no cost to the quality of performance. If this is the direction we are heading in then opera buffs everywhere ought to be very excited indeed.
Continues until 12 May: book tickets here.
Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Mark McCloskey.