11 December 2017
It’s Dalston, Christmas Eve 2017, and this is Puccini, but not as the purists know it. Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s inventive, wonderful transposition of the opera has transferred from the Kings Head Theatre, and soars as beautifully as the high notes. The genius of this adaptation is that the characters are real, recognisable, without sacrificing any of the power of the original source. On Becky-Dee Trevenen’s set, it feels as if a small scale company have turned up in your living room to sing for you, literally in touching distance, sometimes blocking your view, but always immediate and entertaining.
And what a quartet of singers. Roger Patterson is a real and fragile Ralph, a typical lad, trying to make his way as a playwright, but with a voice that commands your attention. He forms an excellent partnership with Thomas Isherwood as Mark, they sing about Facebook and Christmas jumpers, yet none of it feels gimmicky, and Isherwood is another Bryn Terfel in the making, a superb voice. Becca Marriott is a heartbreaking Mimi, there is no glamour in her drug withdrawal in Act Four, it is harrowing and yet out of her mouth comes the most beautiful singing. As Musetta, Honey Rouhani crashes into the auditorium, exuding privilege as she commands the audience to move, hold her coat and her champagne glass, and she reinvents the term Diva. She works the room as effortlessly as she works the scales, and perhaps Colin in the front row enjoyed her performance a little too much! In fact, characterisation is a very strong feature in this production, these are four young people we know, it’s just they happen to be able to sing beautifully. The musicians, Panaretos Kryiatzidis on piano and William Rudge on Cello, are excellent, with all the passion and sensitivity expected of this timeless score.
Opera buffs should appreciate the singing, and those new to Puccini’s masterpiece have an excellent introduction to it here. It’s grubby and gorgeous, council estate and cultured, skanky and sublime. If you have ever yearned to be a starving artist in a garret, this could well be the production to convince you it’s a good idea. Unmissable!