The Moderate Soprano at Hampstead Theatre
Debuting at Hampstead Theatre this autumn is David Hare’s The Moderate Soprano. Directed by Jeremy Herrin and featuring respected actors such as Roger Allam, one could be forgiven for expecting great things from such a play – yet while the acting talent leaves little to be desired, the play itself is made up of monologues and arguments that, regrettably, are on the side of boring.
Set in the early 1930s, the play brings to life the true story of John Christie (Roger Allam) and his soprano wife Audrey Mildmay (Nancy Carroll), as they realise their dream of hosting an opera festival in Glyndebourne’s sizeable gardens. Hiring help from opera directors in the form of Rudolf Bing (George Taylor), Dr. Fritz Busch (Paul Jesson) and Professor Carl Ebert (Nick Sampson), all escaping Nazi persecution in one way or another, the play dramatizes the events from inception to opening night, including the artistic arguments that may have ensued in the interim.
Regardless of the dull nature of the play, Roger Allam does a phenomenal job of portraying the eccentric John Christie and enjoys many of the best lines of the production. A compelling character in himself, perhaps more John and less of the other characters may have improved things a little. Likewise Nancy Carroll gives a strong performance as fragile Audrey: the most touching moment of the play belongs to her.
Yet however well-meaning the play is, its subject matter means it cannot be very relatable, seeing as anyone with no prior knowledge of the opera world would find themselves lost and unable to comprehend most of the jokes. Likewise, even for an avid opera fan, it’s not really a play about opera, and alas, there is not a single song included. It is a play about artists arguing with their financier, and his wife getting in the way.
Well-acted but not very much fun, the historic events that led to the Glyndebourne Festival are touching: a man utterly compelled to build such a shrine to commemorate his love of both his wife and opera, but this play puts the technicalities of it all above the emotional motives which sadly, proves to be its downfall.
The Moderate Soprano is on at Hampstead Theatre from 23rd October until 28th November 2015, for further information or to book visit here.