Anyone who goes to see Dress Rehearsal expecting a series of operatic vignettes is in for a surprise. Opera is certainly the framework of the production, but there is also a story.
Writer A.J. Evans was inspired by watching an opera group performing in her local pub; what, she wondered, was the real dynamic of the group? Was there a pecking order? What had they all individually dreamed of being, of becoming? And thus her characters grew, gained flesh and feelings, and it is for this reason that there is no question of the play having been shoe-horned round the musical numbers; it is a fascinating and heart-warming tale in its own right. In fact on its first outing in Hammersmith it was performed by “actors who can sing, rather than singers who can act.”
This time round the level of both singing and acting talent among the cast is undeniable. To hear classics such as Habanera and Dido’s Lament performed so well and in such an intimate setting is a true privilege, but the cast also bring the story vividly and touchingly to life. The action takes place primarily over the course of one evening, as The Overtones attempt to bring a little culture to a rowdy and unimpressed pub. Bitter Diva Bella dominates the group, but aging Lionel and cocky Kit also have their dreams – and their memories. And as for self-effacing and motherly Steph, she is nursing a secret which is about to come back to haunt her. As their private lives begin to spill onto the public stage, the stability of the little group is threatened. Both writing and direction are delicate and understated and the audience is left to form their own opinions and draw their own conclusions.
The performing area is small, but Set Designer Liz Marsden, Director Paola Cuffola and Choreographer Chiara Vinci make excellent use of the space. The set is cleverly divided in two; we can see, simultaneously, the public space in the bar where they are performing and the backstage area where their masks, both literal and figurative, are stripped away. All three entrances are used, and scene changes are smooth and fluid. In front of the stage we are shown flashbacks of Steph’s life, which fit seamlessly into the action and underpin the gentle tragedy of the atmosphere. Any pauses are entertainingly covered by the gifted pianist Phyllis, played by Karen Newby.
All of the performers are extremely gifted, and it seems unfair to single anyone out for especial praise; nevertheless it must be said that the older Steph and her great love Mickey are particularly touching. Played by Alexandra Cowell and James Richards respectively, they bring a charm and a pathos to their scenes which is genuinely moving. However, all of the characters are delightful, even when they are behaving appallingly.
The Community Arts Centre at the Old Sorting Office is a relatively new – and very recently refurbished – performance space. If Dress Rehearsal is indicative of the quality of production that they are going to provide, the people of Barnes are extremely lucky indeed.
Review by Genni Trickett
What really goes on backstage, when the public face is replaced by the private one? Dress Rehearsal follows five performers over one evening as they endeavour to bring opera to a London pub. Onstage and backstage, the arias and ballads parallel the hopes, fears and disappointments of the individual singers.
Alternating between the bar and the intimate setting of the dressing room, the play explores the failures, ambitions and rivalries of the performers over a night when tensions between them come to a head. The group may be dominated by failed Diva, Bella, but the story ultimately belongs to reticent Steph as her past comes back to haunt her and a secret is revealed which means nothing will ever be the same again.
Using opera and traditional music to express the emotions at the heart of the play, Dress Rehearsal looks at the pain of coming to terms with failed ambitions and lost opportunities – yet at the same time it is a tale of hope, camaraderie, forgiveness and love.
Dress Rehearsal is full of musical greats including excerpts from La Traviata, Carmen, The Magic Flute and The Mikado.
Sponsored by the Bull’s Head, Barnes.
Performance Dates Tuesday 9th – Saturday 20th February 2016
Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm
Saturday matinees, 3pm
Running time 90 minutes, plus interval
Twitter @OSOArtsBarnes, #DressRehearsalOpera
Writer Alison Evans
Director Paola Cuffolo
Musical Director Gaspar Hunt
Production Manager Ian Taylor
Choreography Paola Cuffolo and Chiara Vinci
Set Designer Sophie Hulbert
Lighting Designer George Petty
Costume Designer Liz Marsden
Production Electrician Cameron Murray Production LX
Stage Manager Samantha Gardiner
Set Builder Will Newman
Wigs and Make-up Katherine Vose
Lionel Tony Baker
Steph Alexandra Cowell
Kit Luke Farrugia
Zeno and Young Tramp AJ MacGillivray
Phyllis Karen Newby
Micky James Richards
Young Steph Chiara Vinci
Bella Amanda Wagg
OSO Arts Centre, 29 Station Road, London SW13 0LF