Posts Tagged ‘Charles Court Opera’

Review -Magic Flute – Charles Court Opera at Kings Head Theater

May 15, 2017

Walking into the King’s Head Theater, I was amazed to see the space fully transformed. The exit doors were still in place, but look! We stood inside a jungle! Creepers twined up the walls, ferns sprouted from the railings, and an inpenetrable canopy of leaves blocked the ceiling from view. Combined with the normal damp and warmth of this enclosed space, it was very much like being in the Amazon … or perhaps somewhere on a mountainside in New Guinea. It was wholly exotic, and a marvellous concept for a Magic Flute. I had no idea what else Charles Court Opera had in store for us, but I was very excited to be finding out!

Our Tamino (Oliver Brignall) was an intrepid English explorer who has been caught by three ladies (Jennifer Begley, Sarah Champion, Polly Leach) who’ve mistaken him for a wild animal. Amusingly, each finds him attractive and hopes to discourage the others so as to get him for herself … but they all scatter, leaving Papageno (Matthew Kellet) to arrive, birdcage in tow, to get the credit for rescuing Tamino.

And then, well, you know, we have the rest of the show, which generally follows closely to the original but has a lot of clever rhymes (occasionally slangy) thrown in that make it a pleasure to listen to – important as we’re not given any supertitles to crib us through it. Being forced to pay attention to what they singers are saying as well as whether or not they hit the notes – well, that was a change! There were occasional problems with following the words – the Queen of the Night (Nicola Said) had particularly bad diction in her spoken dialogue, and occasionally when a character had their back turned to my side of the audience, I couldn’t catch what they were saying – but overall, forcing us to listen, well! I felt like, for once, the audience was really engaged, and not just watching a concert.

A most terrifying Queen of the Night

The Magic Flute, Hannah Sawle as The Queen of the Night, photo Bill Night


Costuming and special effects isn’t really what Magic Flute is supposed to be about, but there was so much charm and surprise in Charles Court’s interpretation that it’s impossible to remain silent on the subject. The use of a trio of bird puppets to discourage Papageno (and Pamina, Emily Jane Thomas) from self-harming … the hysterical creepy giant Papagena puppet … the REAL FLAMES that were brought out when it was time for Tamino to face his trials … the tattoos down the Queen of the Night’s chin … the overall effect, of jungly savage scariness really amplified the dichotomy the story was trying to pull out, of a contrast between light and darkness, between civilization and superstition. And it made it possible for the magic, for once, to seem real. In fact, it was real: it was stage magic of the highest order, done on a cheese paring budget but with all of the “gouda” things left intact. And if you think that pun was uncalled for, well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. This is without doubt the most imaginative interpretation of the Magic Flute I’ve ever seen and the wordplay only made it better. Go!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 12th, 2017. It continues through June 4th and is already mostly sold out so GET ON IT.)

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Review – Mirror, Mirror – Charles Court Opera at King’s Head Theater

December 16, 2015

With the wealth of musical talent at their disposal, Charles Court Opera has the ability to make a panto that’s far above the average. They also have a much more diverse audience – with their focus on smaller venues, rather than coming up with ultra family friendly fare suitable for the kiddies, they can have some fun with lots of clever songs and jokes that aim for a higher bar and still have one sold-out night after another. Their confidence and style was perfectly captured in Snow White’s first appearance : silhouetted, stilleto-eted, loudly fêted. Okay, John Savournin was in flats, but still: here was a fabulous dame worth cheering for, all six foot three of her.

As Snow White, Mirror Mirror took quite a few diversions from the typical story: Snowy isn’t a virginal lass abused by the evil queen and saved by the huntsman; no, she’s a sexy widow (of Barry White, natch) who’s buried herself in domestic service (to dwarves) to escape her loneliness. Then along comes a prince with a fortune (Amy J Payne), and suddenly Queenie (Nicola Jolley) and Snow are in competition….

The jokes came thick and plentifully. Actually some of them would have used that line as a lead in to a gag: God knows, “My perfume? It’s called ‘Come to me’,” and its punchline were probably both old as the hills and entirely unsuitable for a family audience: it nearly unseated the prince and I can’t bear to repeat it. More clever (but not as hysterics inducing) was a bit at the beginning where Mrs. White is bleeped as she introduces the dwarves, then is obliged to tell us that due to the fear of being sued, most of them will need to be known my humorous approximations of the more famous monikers given to them by a certain Hollywood animation giant. This all leads into a great schtick in which Matthew Kellet comes on as each of the dwarves, wearing an only-slightly modified costume for each. (Ultimately this is a set up for a great sight gag at the end. These are some clever people. I won’t tell you what it is so you can enjoy it.)

To shake up the story a bit, Savournin has given the queen several more opportunities to interfere in Snowy’s househould, including spell casting (to the dismay of the prince’s valet, Andrea Tweedale, whose superb singing voice made me wish she’d been given a bigger part), a fatality-inducing DIY episode (never did Disney have the queen depicted as a plumber), and then finally, well, something with an apple, but the entire plot was being deconstructed into something about lost love and would Snow ever get over Barry.

It was all extremely ludicrous and even better because of the fabulous song craft, which skewered, “My Heart Goes Boom,” “Candle in the Wind,” and “You Make Me Feel (like a natural woman)” sung in such a deep voice I was starting to cry. And there were horrible puns, a candy toss, a sploosh scene, and enough political jokes to keep us on our toes. Could there be a more perfect panto? I’d buy tickets for next year’s today if they were on sale now.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, December 12, 2015. It continues through January 9th.)

Review – The Zoo and Trial by Jury – Charles Court Opera at the King’s Head Theatre

April 24, 2015

I’d hear a little about Trial by Jury before Charles Court announced its production – but it seemed a clarion call to work on my Gilbert and Sullivan completism – after all, as a forty minute long one act, Trial By Jury doesn’t seem to get produced very much. And I’ve been feeling very warm about Charles Court Opera, given the three home runs in a row of Patience, Ruddigore and their extremely silly panto that proved the unexpected highlight of the Christmas season. So why not see a double header? And, to my surprise, a theater loving friend in Brighton declared herself so excited by the whole thing that she decided to come up to see it with me, for a Sunday evening show! What could go wrong?

The first piece, The Zoo, was fluffy to near astronomical heights. There was not much of a plot – a pharmacist (David Menezes) in love with a girl (Catrine Kirkman) whose father (Matthew Kellet) resents him for misprescribing a medicine: a peer (John Savournin) whose secret delight is to woo the woman (Nichola Jolley) who mans the refreshment stand at the zoo – these characters meet at the zoo, where the pharmacist is somewhat inconveniencing the other lovebirds by attempting to hang himself. While the songs were fun to listen to, it seems almost churlish to not focus on the hysterical performances given by the performers while (frequently) not singing. Jolley’s cockney accent was killing me, but OOH Savournin packing his face full of cake and eclairs was a sight to see, a veritable side show in itself. The level of mugging was truly epic. We were in stitches. And, er, the singing was very enjoyable as well, but this was absolutely one to see live.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get funnier, we came back from the interval to the chaos of The Trial. Apparently the whole thing was set up as a Jeremy Kyle spoof (I was, but what was absolutely slaying me was the peculiar quiver Catrine Kirkman was giving to her upper lip as “the plaintiff,” a chavtastic bridezilla with a nine-month bump to match the chip on her shoulder. She managed an amusingly nasal tone to her voice, but thankfully as better singing was called for (and less comedy), she gently dropped the facade and let it rip, showing her fine pipes to our pleasure (if to the disadvantage of her character but we can’t really have bad singing now, can we?). Meanwhile there was so much other stuff going on that the main story about the husband to be who jilted her was slipping into the background in favor of, for example, the massively camp performance of John Savournin as The Judge, and the hysterical peeping of Matthew Kellert as the clerk who is offering to save “the plaintiff” from her fate. You couldn’t have possibly kept up this much gurning and goofing around with a longer show, but as forty minutes of in-your-face comedy, it was just hysterical. Side by side with The Zoo, it was like having dessert twice in a row, but I just couldn’t complain because I was laughing too much.

(This review is for a performance that took place the evening of Sunday, April 19, 2015. It continues through May 10th.)

Review- Ruddigore- Charles Court Opera at King’s Head Theatre

February 22, 2015

I wasn’t familiar with Ruddigore, which is apparently one of the least performed operettas in the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, but I’m enthusiastically aware of Charles Court Opera since I saw their hysterical reworking of Patience this past summer. I’ve believed for years that, in the right hands, Gilbert and Sullivan positively shines; but it takes a lot of work to blow off the dust and get to the diamonds of comedy and song-craft beneath. Sasha Regan has been doing it for years with her all male shows: Charles Court’s decision to people Patience with Goths showed similar anti-fustiness tendencies. So they set Ruddigore as a Hammer Horror style fright show? Bring it!

Initially, it’s a little hard to stomach the pastel costumes of the professional bridesmaids, Ruth (Susanna Buckle) and Zorah (Andrea Tweedale), but their singing is lovely. However, as the story begins to unfold, I had more than a bit of a whiff of Patience – we once again had “lovesick maidens” being thwarted by a comically disinterested heroine – only this time, Rose Maybud (Rebecca Moon) can’t fall in love because nobody can meet her standards of etiquette. Despite having nearly the same mentality as Patience, she is actually a comic heroine drawn in fantastically broad strokes – an instant classic. Carrying around her little book of advice and referring to it in every situation – she’s a character I’ll remember for ages. But it still seems like G&S were running short of ideas at this point in their careers, because when she has her first duet with the man she loves (“I know a youth”) the structure seemed almost exactly lifted from Patience’s “Prithee, pretty maiden.” But, again, Rose and “Robin” (Matthew Kellet) are lovely singers and fun to watch, so it was a pleasure even if it didn’t feel fresh.
RUDDIGORE Guiltily Mad - Sir Despard (John Savournin) Photo Bill Knight
Fortunately, the plot, which had been starting to flounder, picks up mightily with the introduction of sailor Richard Dauntless (Philip Lee), who not only gets to talk in a broad Cornish accent but dances a hornpipe AND gets to flirt with all of the ladies. Shortly after he appears, we move on to the real fun, which is the story of the bad baronets of Ruddigore. To my pleasure, this meant the return to the stage of John Savournin, who’d nearly killed me with laughter as the dame of Charles Court’s panto. And, to make it better, he had a starring role in the second half, as a dead Count Ruddigore – I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but with a face as mobile as his, he was born to the role. Not to mention he does have such a buttery voice (if you can say buttery when talking about a deep baritone). The Ruddigore element is where the Hammer Horror staging really came to the fore – we had cheesy capes, Wascally Wabbit stalkings, and lots of screams. And, of course, it was shot through with the natural comedy of Gilbert and Sullivan’s lyrics and all of their joyous music (including, I was told, a song that is normally cut). This performance proved to me, once again, that Gilbert and Sullivan is alive and well and sparkling on the London stages, as eternally relevant as Shakespeare but with a lot more room for run. And – three times a charm – I’m now fully sold on Charles Court Opera and will henceforth be putting all of their performances in my calendar.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on Thursday, February 19, 2015. It continues through March 14th.)

Review – Patience – Charles Court Opera at King’s Head Theater

June 24, 2014

I was absolutely willing to pass on seeing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience at the King’s Head Theater, despite it being the one I can sing along to all of the songs, because, well, I just didn’t have much faith in it not being … well, stodgy. I loved the Union theater’s all-male Patience in 2012, but that was just Sasha’s magic at work, right? The last thing I wanted was some historically pure production that sent me off to nap land, no matter how much dragoon guards and aesthetes make me giggle.

But then I heard it was a Goth Patience. And suddenly, it seemed so much more relevant to not just my life but to modernity. The whole “twenty lovesick maidens” who go around being woeful and in love with a total loser poet seemed so absolutely right for this script. And Goth has a lot in common with the aesthetes, especially if you feel like poking a bit of fun at people who take what they wear a bit too seriously. I wasn’t sure how they were going to work in the whole “Patience is a milkmaid” thing but it all seemed very promising and I scooted out and got tickets for my next available free night.

As it turns out, this was a very appropriate adaptation that took the characters of the shallow, fashionable women (and men) and found a perfectly reasonable excuse for them to be among us for, surely, people who value looking a certain way over personal accomplishments are just as present in modern society as they were in Oscar Wilde’s time. It was all set at the Castle pub (a Camden Goth hangout), and Patience herself had changed from a lowly milkmaid to a tan, outdoorsy barmaid … exactly the kind of person Goths would snub. The only clash was the Dragoon guards … I found it hard to believe a bunch of soldiers would ever be the sweethearts of a pack of Goth chicks, but, well, disbelief must be suspended: however, when they came back all in their best version of Goth garb (so to better woo the ladies), the one dressed as a mime had just so clearly got the whole thing wrong that I burst out laughing. Yes, it seems mostly right, just using black and white face paint does not a Goth make.

The singing was very good, with the performers uniformly seeming to have operatically trained voices. However, I got the feeling that maybe Gilbert and Sullivan wasn’t their forte – the songs, to me, would have benefitted from a bit less vibrato and a bit more patter practice. That said, the words were mostly clear, and the “updates” (such as referencing Frank Sinatra, Primark, and Nietzche) made the show even funnier.

Overall this was a very lively evening and well worth the small investment in time (just over two hours with a 7:15 start ensuring I got home at a decent time), especially at the affordable ticket price. Thank you for a fleshly show, of full comedy!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, June 19th, 2014. It continues through June 28th.)