Reviewed – 11th December 2017
“A clever, amusing libretto and interactive staging engage the audience from the start”
It is an interesting idea to transport 1830s bohemian Paris to present day life-on-the-breadline in Dalston. Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Becca Marriott’s updated take on Puccini’s classic opera, which has transferred from the King’s Head Theatre, shows the timelessness of love and emotions against a background of poverty and desperation.
A tale of the joys and sorrows of dependent relationships, it also maintains the artist’s fight for creative recognition. It cuts away the chorus, the orchestra and the traditional grandeur of an opera house, leaving only the four main characters and two musicians from the original opera in the small space of Trafalgar Studio 2. A clever, amusing libretto and interactive staging engage the audience from the start. However, while the close proximity to the singers is an intense experience, the opera’s rapid changes of moods and emotions – drama, wit, happiness, tragedy – can be oddly melodramatic. As a contemporary touch, replacing tuberculosis with drug addiction is very effective.
All four talented singers hold the stage with confidence. Thomas Isherwood as Mark has a powerful yet polished sonority as he sings of his despair for the love of the fickle Musetta. She is played by a strikingly seductive Honey Rouhani who sings with appropriate gusto (beware, front row, if you are not partial to audience participation). Becca Marriott gives a strong interpretation of Mimi, though the vitality of her voice is perhaps better suited to the fragility of her character in the second half, and she occasionally overpowers Roger Paterson (Ralph) in the duets. Vocally not as operatic but beautifully natural, he has less resonance in the upper register which, arguably, suits the intimacy of the studio. Panaretos Kyriatzidis (Musical Director) is an excellent substitute for a large-scale orchestra but William Rudge on cello, as the only other instrumentalist, lacks focus to his sound, and passion in dramatic moments, allowing the musical tension to disappear.
The simplicity of the set design (Becky-Dee Trevenen) and dimly glowing lighting (Nic Farman) portray the familiarity of the setting yet create a scene reminiscent of larger productions. Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s direction skilfully incorporates the audience into the action by making use of the whole studio, though in intense passages of quartet singing the positions of the singers can distort the harmonic balance.
La Boheme is the type of innovative production the Trafalgar Studios promotes. It is an absorbing performance that captures the essence of the grand opera style in its own miniature genre.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Scott Rylander
is at Trafalgar Studios until 6th January 2018