If the phrase ‘radical new version’ puts the purists off the King’s Head Theatre’s new production of La Boheme, there’s all the more space for everyone else to enjoy this contemporary rendering of what has become a classic opera. And even the term ‘radical’ is up for debate here: I would say the Broadway musical Rent is more ‘radical’ in its adaptation of Puccini’s original – this particular La Boheme, for all the laugh-out-loud humour in the first half, retains the tragic nature of its emotional and passionate ending, and many of the elements of the narrative are recognisable for anyone who has seen a more conventional version.
That said, there is more than enough that is different, not least because there are references to Facebook and Nando’s (don’t ask), in what is an unambiguous – and successful – attempt to get audiences to understand the wider themes of the opera without having to concern themselves with the social, political and cultural aspects of the story. In short, it’s an opera set in contemporary London, aimed at a contemporary London audience. Stripped down in this way (and not just to fit the physical and budgetary constraints of a smaller venue) it is quite a unique experience.
The singers’ voices are perfectly adjusted to take account of the audience sitting so much closer than they would at other venues listed in the cast biographies, such as Wigmore Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and Glyndebourne. While assertive and assured, one never feels there’s a hair-dryer treatment in progress, or experience discomfort with the sheer volume that singers of the calibre in this production are surely capable of. The intimate acoustics of this venue are suited to operas, as words are not lost to an echo; while a libretto is included in the programme, I never felt the need to consult it while the show was going on.
There are two sets of four singers used in this production, and I cannot find fault in any of the four that were on stage at the performance I attended. Some of the action takes place from a seated position, causing sightline issues for those of us in the audience sat on the back row (a fellow theatregoer had no qualms in standing up on occasion to get a better view). But the production utilises the available performance space in the King’s Head Theatre remarkably well.
A particularly amusing moment came courtesy of a breaching of the fourth wall. I refrain from divulging details of what transpired, but it was an unexpected and much appreciated few moments of hilarity in what is, essentially, a tragedy. There is something distinctly odd, though, about lines such as “I have to bash out an Amazon review of these hair straighteners” being sung in any show, and the sometimes terse language used between Mark (Thomas Humphreys) and Ralph (Matthew Kimble), though commensurate with so-called ‘banter’ between two young men who know each other well as friends, will not appeal to all. Completing the quartet are Musetta (Honey Rouhani) and Mimi (Becca Marriott), both highly convincing.
This is a strong, impactful and enjoyable production that held my attention throughout.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The King’s Head Theatre presents a radical new version of Puccini’s timeless classic, La bohème by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Becca Marriott.
Renowned for his inventive, contemporary reinterpretations of classic theatre and opera, director, Adam Spreadbury-Maher, will focus upon the quintessential quartet – Mimi, Musetta, Rodolfo (Ralph) and Marcello (Mark) – and it will be lifted from when Puccini set his opera in the early 19th century to present day East London.
Composer Giacomo Puccini
Libretto Adam Spreadbury-Maher & Becca Marriott
Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Musical Director Panaretos Kyriatzidis
Designer Becky-Dee Trevenen
Lighting Designer Nic Farman
Associate Director David Spencer
Stage Manger Christine Collins
Performance Dates Wednesday 31st August – Saturday 8th October 2016
Tuesday – Saturday, 7.00pm
Sunday Matinees, 3.00pm
[excludes 1st, 4th, 6th and 8th September]
Location King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, London, N1 1QN