Music by Georges Bizet arranged by Teddy Clements
Book & Lyrics by Phil Willmott
Adapted from the libretto by Meilhac & Halevy based on the novella by Prosper Merimee.
The Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, Southwark, London SE1 0LR to 10March 2018.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 2.30pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7261 9876.
Review: William Russell 17 February.
Busy, busy Bizet
Director Phil Willmott’s big idea is to take Bizet’s music for Carmen and use it for a musical set in 1808 when Spain was being overrun by Napoleon during the Peninsular War. He had seen Goya’s famous painting of the young man facing a firing squad, linked it to the current Catalan struggle for independence, and has devised a tale about freedom fighters with Carmen as a spy seducing low level officers in the Government troops.
On 3 May 1808 troops fired on Spaniards demonstrating outside the Royal Palace in Madrid. Goya, appalled, and heading for a breakdown, responded in his paintings and becomes narrator and spectator of the tale. The problem Willlmott’s story line gets confused – in musicals it is always the book that lets things down – and his lyrics frequently just won’t do. Bizet, however, survives since the cast can sing, although choreographer Adam Haigh has been given an excessive amount of licence to create turmoil.
The cast are forever stamping around, twirling and leaping, waving and occasionally fans in the air, and overacting like crazy, which ensembles given half a chance always do. As the evening goes on one longs for a little peace and quiet. But instead of relying on the piano and occasional guitar for what are meant to be the big moments we get excessively loud blasts of recorded orchestral sound.
There is nothing wrong with setting the story in 1808 but it needs a lot more thinking through if it is to have any relevance to events today, which this three play season, the other works being Heartbreak House and The Cherry Orchard, is designed to show.
However, Alexander Barria makes an impressive Goya, Rachel Lea-Gray a genuinely sultry Carmen, and the immensely tall Maximilian Marston is a strapping Captain whom she loves. They hold the eye, as does Blair Gibson, a bespectacled student resistance leader clearly from Edinburgh’s Morningside, who is given a lovely letter song to sing, and Thomas Mitchells as Corporal Luis, Carmen’s other regimental lover target, who appears to be an Essex boy. The International Brigade belongs to another period in which this melange of ill assorted regional accents might just have made some sense. Here it simply confuses.
Sit back, enjoy the tunes, admire the cast, costumes and set, but Carmen 1808 does not, as Willmott wanted, add anything to the raison d’etre of the season. Back to the drawing board, I fear.
Goya: Alexander Barria.
Carmen: Rachel Lea-Gray.
Captain Velarde: Maximilian Marston.
Corporal Luis: Thomas Mitchells.
Josephina: Charlotte Haines.
Javier Rizal: Blair Gibson.
Manuela: Jodie Beth Meyer.
Amalia: Ellie Ann Lowe.
Mateo: Chris Britton.
Maria: Bronia Pearce.
Isabella: Jasmine Bradford.
Carlos: Harry Powell.
Sofia: Samantha Richards.
Constanza: Kerry Way.
Salvador: Pantelakis Chrisou.
Fernando: Brett Sinclair.
Vincente: Jack Malin.
Director: Phil Willmott.
Choreographer: Adam Haigh.
Musical Director: Teddy Clements.
Set Design: Justin Williams & Jonny Rust.
Costume Design: Penn O’Gara.
Lighting Design: Ben Jacobs.
Sound Design: Theo Holloway.
Assistant Director: Lara Alier