LA BOHEME, 4Star****, London, to Oct 8

London
La Boheme
A new adaptation by Adam Spreadbury Maher and Becca Marriott
4 Star****

King’s Head Theatre to October 8
115 Upper Street
Islington
London N1 1QN

Runs: 2h 35m. 15 min interval

Box Office: 020 7226 8561
www.kingsheadtheatre.com

 
Review by: Ian Spiby. Perf seen Sept 5, 2016:

The best La Boheme I have ever seen; mmoving and convincing
Adam Spreadbury-Maher promises us in the publicity that this is a ‘radically different take’ on that old warhorse of the operatic repertoire and it certainly is. Gone are all the characters except Ralph (Rudolfo) Mimi, Mark (Marcello) and Musetta (‘her real name’s Maureen but she calls herself Musetta’). It is set in East London in the present day and Mimi isn’t suffering romantically with consumption, she is a heavy drug user, a habit which eventually kills her.

Paring it down in this way has a number of distinct advantages. We get rid of the sentimentality for a start – that ghastly children’s chorus marching about in Act Two for instance – as well as the much-beloved aria to an overcoat. Gone too is the embarrassing horse-play between the lads.

But believability springs to the fore. For example, I’ve never really been convinced by Rudolfo’s reasons for leaving Mimi in Act Three but in this version we totally believe Ralph as he tells Mark how he couldn’t bear the impotence of watching the girl he loves slowly kill herself – and this is made all the more poignant when she promises him at the and of the act that she will be “clean” by the Spring. I found the end of the opera too, almost too difficult to watch, where Mimi, in agony from drug withdrawal, begs her friends to get her one more fix, which, to relieve her suffering, they do. And the irony of her last words – “This will be the last time, I promise” – was overwhelming.

But it is not all gloom – Act Two is great fun – and hilarious when Musetta accuses an audience member of groping her. As punishment he gets the bill for the night’s revellings: ‘you’d pay more than that for the same thing in Soho’ (He did get a round of applause at the end!)

Performances were uniformly excellent and musically it was fine, although Matthew Kimble as Ralph did struggle with his tuning at times. The reduction of the orchestral score to piano and cello accompaniment worked well too, as indeed it did in the same company’s La Traviata a few years ago.

Of course, as La Boheme is a staple of every international opera house, I have heard it better sung, but I have never heard it so movingly and convincingly performed.

La Boheme
A new adaptation by Adam Spreadbury Maher and Becca Marriott

Cast:

Ralph: Matthew Kimble
Mark: Thomas Humphreys
Mimi: Becca Marriott
Musetta: Honey Rouhani

Director: Adam Spreadbury Maher
Costume & Set Designer: Becky-Dee Trevenen
Musical Director and Pianist Panaretos Kysiatzidis
Cellist: Alison Holford
First London perf of La Boheme at the King’s Head Theatre, Aug 31, 2016

2016-09-06 15:17:46

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