La Bohème at the King’s Head Theatre
Puccini in a pub: A creative reconstruction of La Bohème, this fringe opera version at the King’s Head Theatre is fresh, enjoyable and first-rate. Using Puccini’s music, producer and director Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Becca Marriott, who plays Mimi, wrote the libretto. Well known for his innovative recreations of classic opera and theatre, Spreadbury-Maher strives for essence: “We wanted to strip back the trappings and conventions of traditional productions to expose the raw, beating heart of the piece.”
While the original work is based on the novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème by French writer Henri Murger, this cutting-edge version moves the setting from Paris to present-day East London. The characters are four: Mimi, Musetta (Honey Rouhani), Ralph (Matthew Kimble) and Mark (Thomas Humphreys). The two men are a couple of struggling artists grappling with London’s high rents, Musetta is a singer, and Mimi is a drifter whose terminal illness is now drug addiction.
With operatic vocals of the highest quality, the show would be a pleasure to experience for that alone. However, the production in its entirety is uniquely interesting and entertaining; the four players perform with superb artistry and charisma, and the musicians are terrific.
In the corner of the theatre are just a piano and a cello, which are amply sufficient and effective in the small space. A simple set-up with a sofa and makeshift coffee table, the stage extends into the audience, as the players cavort in aisles and around spectators, interacting with viewers and including them in the performance.
Written as a contemporary libretto, the tone is witty, sometimes bawdy and occasionally farcical, at times an affectionate parody of traditional opera, at others solemn and deeply emotional. Whether typical “guy talk” or relationship banter – even self-mockery: “how long have I been talking? I’m full of rubbish” – the juxtaposition of contemporary jargon with Puccini’s score and classically vocalised opera is both intriguing and amusing. The music is true to the original, while at points veering into slapstick accompaniment.
Combining creative theatre and a poignant, deeply human story with inventive humour and magnificent singers, La Bohème at the King’s Head Theatre is a charming success.
La Boheme is at the King’s Head Theatre from 31st August until 8th October 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for La Bohème here: