Carmen at the Soho Theatre
In a new English version of George Bizet’s most enduring work, Carmen, currently playing at the Soho Theatre, almost exists outside of time in its styling, musicality and attitude. Written and directed by Robin Norton-Hale, the production revitalises the operatic genre by removing the language barrier, giving it a very modern physicality and chopping an hour out of the running time.
Boredom in the baking heat of the South American landscape is not just “an art”, it fuels the soldiers’ lust for Carmen. While the audience might expect the military men, with their undercurrent of aggression, to be the ones in power, it rests very clearly instead in Carmen’s hands, frequently in literal terms as every at every opportunity she holds a weapon. From the outset the audience can almost see the danger rising from her like smoke, as she warns the men that if she decides she wants them, then they had “best take care”.
A wide variety of concepts of “love” span the production, from dark, possessive and suspicious – the kind to be equated with a debt – to joyful, freely-given and enlightening. The supporting cast portray such a camaraderie in gender-equal friendship, that it only serves to highlight the lack of equality in the lead storyline: the line “swear you’ll submit” is particularly alarming in 2015. It plays with ideas of freedom and power and their impact on love and choice, balancing love and power on a knife edge.
The Soho Theatre is quite a small space for such strong voices and makes the sound a very physical experience, drawing the audience into the experience and making the emotions much more real. The simple but striking set creates a sense of place without being fussy and having the musicians on stage gives the opportunity to observe their great skill. Led by Berrak Dyer, they are a very capable quartet of flute, violin, cello and piano, delivering the instantly recognisable tunes effortlessly. Hopefully the impact of this arrangement can be maintained as the show tours midsize venues across the UK in 2016.
Carmen is on at Soho Theatre from 5th August until 19th September 2015, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Carmen here: