THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Ballo, King’s Head Theatre

I must say I was hugely excited to receive the invitation to review again at the King’s Head, it being one of my favourite places to come and see what’s on offer.  This evening certainly did not disappoint. I was sceptical at the thought of an opera of Verdian proportions being done justice by the intimate settings of the King’s Head but with the stage being set wisely in thrust mode, the action managed to overcome the spatial limitations of its platform.

Now, if you have seen any of the publicity for this production, you will realise that it bears resemblance to a certain Swedish super-power home store.  Indeed, ‘Ballo’ is the famous Ikea’s retail rival in this version.  That is not to trivialise or undermine the storyline in any way; as all the drama, backbiting and tragedy that one would expect from Verdi is still very much present, just against a more humorous, light-hearted backdrop – kudos to Adam Spreadbury-Maher for striking this fine balance.  A healthy dose of Abba in the second act may have offended the sensibilities of some purists but an open mind will put paid to any such reactions – it certainly had the audience’s hips shaking and bottoms wiggling!

The roles have been double-cast; I was fortunate to catch the tragic lovers Riccardo and Amelia being portrayed by Edward Hughes and Becca Marriott respectively.  Hughes commanded the challenging score magnificently; sustaining repeated high B flats with impressive stamina and resonance.  Marriot’s athletic arias were performed with panache and intelligence, and the two had a lovely chemistry.  The casting surprise of the evening was the trouser role (Oscar) being sung by male coloratura soprano Martin Milnes.  This added great comedy and spark to the show, and if one had closed their eyes they never would have known the difference!  The greatest comic injection, however, came from Olivia Barry’s portrayal of the fortune-teller Ulrica.  She had the audience in stitches with her witty interpretation, and delivered the epic role with great control and a rich, velvety mezzo.

As ever, a theatre of this size limits the scope for orchestral accompaniment.  However, the lightning fingers of Ben Woodward more than compensated for this – he handled this tour de force of a score with great dexterity – top marks.

Ballo runs until 25 May – book tickets here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Mark McCloskey.

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