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La Bohème


King’s Head Theatre

La Bohème

La Bohème

King’s Head Theatre

Reviewed – 5th May 2022



“Matt Kellett’s baritone is rich and undulating, and soprano Grace Nyandoro is warm and bright”


La Bohème is basically the opera equivalent of Romeo and Juliet: a tragic love story, very accessible and (therefore) very overdone. If you’ve seen one opera, chances are very high that it’s this one. So I completely understand the impetus to upheave the production and give the audience something entirely unexpected. Director Mark Ravenhill has tried just that, setting up, not in nineteenth century Paris, but in a doctor’s staff room at a modern-day hospital.

I find this slightly confusing, because whilst we preface the opera with a scene in which Mimi is in a hospital surrounded by healthcare professionals in scrubs, the opening act of the actual opera has everyone playing their usual roles, one an artist, the other a writer, in their shared flat. Except, they’re still in the hospital staff room, still in scrubs. So presumably this is Mimi’s hallucination? It’s not entirely clear. And not to go on, but if you’re going to change the setting can’t you find an equally romantic replacement? Nineteenth century bohemian Paris is hard to beat, I’ll concede, but a hospital staff room, depressingly decorated with a bit of Christmas tinsel, is especially bleak.

As has come to be expected with King’s Head opera, the script has been entirely re-written with only occasional nods to the original. “Your tiny hand is frozen, let me warm it in mine”, for example, is now “Relax, your hands are freezing, we could just chill out for now”. There’s something slightly less placable about the contemporary script: where you might forgive a silly back-and-forth sung in Italian, or even a more formal English, it doesn’t sound quite so good sung in the modern vernacular: “Hey mate/Where’ve you been?/I got held up.” Or rather it simply plays for laughs, which gets a bit boring after a while.

So that’s all the naysaying, I think. The performances themselves are sublime. We’re warned at the start of the evening that someone is singing through a cold, but I don’t quite catch who, and whilst I might have my suspicions (a few ‘M’s turn vaguely to ‘B’s) I really couldn’t say for sure because all four singers are absolutely stunning. The two tenors, Philip Lee and Daniel Koek, both particularly shine in their dulcet falsettos; Matt Kellett’s baritone is rich and undulating, and soprano Grace Nyandoro is warm and bright. There’s a slight lack of sexual chemistry between Lee and Koek, but their caring for one another is believable enough, so that’ll do. Kellett and Nyandoro get the biggest laughs, unafraid to be physical and silly- at one point, Nyandoro has Kellett by his lanyard, walking him on all fours like a dog.

Co-writers Eaton and Lee have also tweaked the story to be a same-sex relationship (Mimi’s real name is now Lucas rather than Lucia) which works without a hitch- I can’t think of anything lost by doing this and it’s something rarely- perhaps never- seen in old operas. But I do wish that, rather than a hyper realistic Grindr match, it had been truer to the bohemian romance of the original with a genuine meet-cute.

With opera traditionally un-miked, it’s often actually quite hard to hear what anyone is saying, so performing in a little room like the King’s Head is absolutely ideal to really hear the singers. The modernising of the story is slightly convoluted, and loses a lot of the aesthetic romance usually inbuilt. But it doesn’t take away from the beautiful performances, nor the heart-breaking end.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by thebrittainphotography


La Bohème

King’s Head Theatre until 28th May


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Tender Napalm | ★★★★★ | October 2021
Beowulf: An Epic Panto | ★★★★ | November 2021
Freud’s Last Session | ★★★★ | January 2022


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Review of La Bohème – 4 Stars


La Bohème

Trafalgar Studios

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




La Bohème

is at Trafalgar Studios until 6th January 2018



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