Reviewed – 3rd November 2017
“a full-blooded, vital performance”
Mozart’s Don Giovanni is an appropriate choice for Headfirst Production’s Festival of Sex, Love and Death, given that it includes all three, in spades. The opera is a heady rush of action: the three hours sprint by as the audience takes in weddings, seductions, betrayals, heartbroken laments and gorgeous singing.
This production at Islington’s Pleasance Theatre is a full-blooded, vital performance. The eponymous Don’s motto for life is “Long live women, long live wine!” but Headfirst promise a new take on the opera classic “from the female perspective” and it delivers. This is definitely a feminist take on Don Giovanni. The women, Donna Elvira, Donna Anna and Zerlina, are all firmly foregrounded in this version – it is definitely their story – and the show ends, fittingly, with the three wronged women hand-in-hand: “may he burn in hell” indeed.
Such heady action is smartly staged (design by Anna Bonomelli) and contrasted with a pared back, minimalist set of two doors in a bare concrete wall. Two huge clock hands on the wall turn constantly throughout the running time, emphasising the speediness of the action. With the cast in modern dress, the design enhances the new, modern take. Where else are you going to see a man in a tracksuit and trainers singing opera whilst pretending to smoke a cigarette? The orchestral ensemble (conducted by Sonia Ben Santamaria) is excellent and the singing superb, particularly Caroline Modiba as Donna Anna and Samuel Pantcheff as Leporello, who also pulls off all of the best jokes.
The small theatre was almost fully packed on the night I attended, which isn’t surprising given the quality of the entertainment, but it is also an encouraging sight when opera is so often written off as ‘old-fashioned’. Headfirst’s Don Giovanni, under Sophie Gilpin’s smooth direction, proves, resoundingly, that that is not the case. All in all, this is a fresh, vigorous take on a classic opera.
Reviewed by Alice Gray
was at The Pleasance Theatre