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Credit: Nigel Norrington
Credit: Nigel Norrington

Master Class, Vaudeville Theatre

Pros: A superb introduction for those who have yet to experience the talent of Tyne Daly, accessible even for opera philistines (like us!).

Cons: Not the most fascinating script, won’t appeal to everyone and will probably be hit-and-miss with opera lovers.

Pros: A superb introduction for those who have yet to experience the talent of Tyne Daly, accessible even for opera philistines (like us!). Cons: Not the most fascinating script, won't appeal to everyone and will probably be hit-and-miss with opera lovers. I’m just going to come right out and say it; I know nothing about opera and until just a few days ago the name Maria Callas meant pretty much nothing to me. Nevertheless, armed with this blissful ignorance, I strolled casually into the Vaudeville Theatre this evening and was engulfed by many opera enthusiasts, dressed considerably more glamorously than…

Summary

Rating

Good

A brilliant piece of performance worth seeing just for Tyne Daly, but perhaps not a must-see.

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I’m just going to come right out and say it; I know nothing about opera and until just a few days ago the name Maria Callas meant pretty much nothing to me. Nevertheless, armed with this blissful ignorance, I strolled casually into the Vaudeville Theatre this evening and was engulfed by many opera enthusiasts, dressed considerably more glamorously than I, for the press night performance of Master Class, a play based on the classes given by renowned opera singer Maria Callas in her later years.

So I suppose that’s the first thing to say about this show, it’s about opera. I’m not saying this to be patronising, but because if you really hate opera with a passion equal to my fellow blogger’s hatred of musical theatre, then this probably isn’t for you. If however, like me, you don’t mind dabbling in something new I think you might just surprise yourself by how much you gain from watching this production as, even for the least knowledgeable, it is quite accessible.

I have read reviews that have been less than impressed with Terrence McNally’s writing, critiquing in particular the inaccuracy of the portrayal of Maria Callas. Not being able to tell for myself how valid this critique is, I can only judge its success by what I saw of the reaction from fellow audience members, which was, I have to say, wholly positive. However all of this leads me to the conclusion that this show may actually have the misfortune of displeasing both ends of the opera spectrum, lovers and haters, alike. Therefore, bizarrely, an unlikely winner emerges: me. Someone who doesn’t know enough to care about the flaws in writing, and can be completely blown away by Tyne Daly’s masterful performance.

Just as her character explains to us how an artist gives everything of themselves to their audience until they are left empty inside, so Tyne Daly gives us a staggering performance. Her Broadway achievements and successes make her a star in her own right and now she graces the West End with her captivating stage presence and all the greatness of a well-seasoned actress. She is absolutely incredible at commanding her audience – and for 2 hours and 20 minutes we are hers – making us laugh with little more than the smallest look. There’s no doubt her performance will make sure this show is talked about, even if it’s other aspects are judged more harshly.

The overall production is expectedly good, with the intimate nature of this auditorium helping to break the barrier between audience and stage and allowing us to feel part of the class. In particular I liked the simplicity of the transitions from classroom to backstage as we see glimpses of Callas’ life played out wonderfully by Daly. All in all, this really is her show and I think she’ll be the reason most audience members will be grateful they booked a ticket in the first place.

Author: Terrence McNally
Director: Stephen Wadsworth
Box Office: 0844 811 0059
Booking Link: https://tickets.nimaxtheatres.com/ShowDatesCombo.aspx
Booking Until: Saturday 28th April 2012

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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.