Tag Archives: Grimeborn

The Rape of Lucretia – 4 Stars


The Rape of Lucretia

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 25th July 2018


“Julia Burbach’s production sheds an interesting new light on the narrative, the characters and, in this case, the audience too”


You know you’re not going to expect an easy night of it when the central theme of a show is rape. Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera premiered in 1946 and has sometimes provoked furious protest. So, it is interesting to see how it fares in the wake of the ‘Me Too’ movement. As one of the centrepieces of the ‘Grimeborn’ festival at the Arcola Theatre, Julia Burbach’s production of “The Rape of Lucretia” sheds an interesting new light on the narrative, the characters and, in this case, the audience too.

It is an intense piece, to say the least, but one that is ideal for the intimacy of the staging at the Arcola. The complexities of the structure are more clear-cut when witnessed close up. The male and female chorus hold the narrative together and they very much involve the audience; shaping the emotional response as they uncover the events. It’s almost as if the chorus are discovering it all for the first time themselves.

Natasha Jouhl and Rob Murray, as female and male chorus respectively, explain the situation in Rome. The city has sunk into depravity while fighting off a Greek invasion and Tarquinius (Benjamin Lewis), Collatinus (Andrew Tipple) and Junius (James Corrigan) are drinking together. While out fighting they have been sexually betrayed by their wives, with the exception of Collatinus whose wife, Lucretia (Bethan Langford), has remained faithful. Junius goads Tauquinius into testing Lucretia’s chastity. To cut a fairly short story shorter, Tarquinius rises to the bait, seeks out Lucretia, and in a bumbled attempt at seduction rapes her.

What is clever in Burbach’s production is the way she makes the audience feel complicit. When Langford circles the space after the rape scene, she stalks the audience with accusing eyes, and we feel that we are voyeuristic accomplices to the rape. We have watched, yet did nothing to intervene. There is a real nobility in Langford’s performance that empowers her character despite the tragic consequences of her violation.

Britten’s score is an acquired taste, but the twelve strong orchestra under Peter Selwyn’s Musical Direction make it immediately accessible. From its mixture of rich tension and sparse atmosphere the cast are able to wring out the emotion. It is beautifully acted and sung, particularly Jouhl and Murray whose articulation leaves no stone unturned as they uncover the action.

It is easy to see why Britten’s opera is perceived as a story of despair and moral emptiness, and often the final message of redemption and Christian suffering seems shoehorned onto the narrative. In Burbach’s intimate production, though, the final poignant notes, rather than resounding with empty absolution, leave us wanting to dig deeper into the subtext and think more about the characters’ motivations. And how we feel about them. It’s not a comfortable piece. But thoroughly engaging.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Robert Workman


The Rape of Lucretia

Arcola Theatre until 4th August



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Review of The Marriage of Kim K – 5 Stars

Kim K

The Marriage of Kim K

Arcola Theatre

Reviewed – 25th July 2017





“Zesty and Irreverent”


First, a quick note. I am not an ‘opera person’. In fact, The Marriage of Kim K’ is the first opera I have ever seen. And seeing as it is part of the Arcola Theatre’s Grimeborn Opera Festival, whose tag line is ‘see opera differently’, I feel this is important. I have never seen opera, differently or otherwise, so what I find to be brilliant may seem to an opera purist to be sacrilegious. That said, this show is brilliant. And I don’t even care if it’s sacrilegious.

In a dramatically innovative restaging of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, we follow central couple Amelia (Amelia Gabriel) and Stephen (Stephen Hyde) attempting to keep their relationship alive amid the competing pressures of work and their diverging interests. She loves the Kardashians, he loves opera. Into this set-up come Kim Kardashian (Yasemin Mireille) and Kris Humphries (James Edge) and the Count and Countess Almaviva (Nathan Bellis and Emily Burnett), via the TV set. Both of these couples are also experiencing their own marriage troubles and it is through their parallel storylines and eventual interactions that the script has a lot of fun mixing fact and fiction. It is a night that begins with our core couple watching reality TV and finishes with them being watched by it.

The small stage is put to ingenious use. Amelia and Stephen occupy the central space of sofa and TV, whilst Kim and Kris and the Count and Countess occupy the two opposite wings. In a witty touch, these wings are mirror images of each other, both containing a single table and chair, showing us that though our couple may argue about the relative merits of high and low culture, this production knows that they are equal.

The production is great across the board. The story and lyrics by Leoe Mercer are zesty and irrerevant and the cast, all brilliant, are clearly having a lot of fun. Mireille is particularly acute at conveying both Kim’s mercenary artificiality and her real longing for love, whilst Edge is very good on Kris’ bouncing boorishness. Stephen Hyde, also in charge of the music, writes that he took Mozart’s original “melodies … [and] reimagine[d] them as all sorts of music – hip-hop, R&B, musical theatre, film, blues, jazz.” The result is a brilliant concoction, which with Leoe Mercer’s witty lyrics, combines to create a show that provides a lot of laughs and a lot to think about. So much so that you might miss them all the first time around. Best to go see it twice.


Reviewed by Alice Gray

Photography by Shay Rowan




is at the Arcola Theatre until 29th July and continues throughout August at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe



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