Pros: Becca Marriott is an outstanding tour de force – I would go again just to watch her performance alone!
Cons: The relationships can occasionally be unconvincing.
Now, I have to admit something to you – I am a bit of an opera virgin. Various heavy handed hints have never quite convinced my boyfriend into taking me. So, already familiar with Puccini’s narrative, I was excited to experience my first taste of opera, the re-imagined Madam Butterfly.
Paul Higgins does a good job of translating Puccini’s 100-year-old big time opera to the small stage of the King’s Head Theatre. The theatre is set towards the back of the King’s Head Pub and has a lovely ambience. The set design of Madam Butterfly is simple with lighted sliding panels that effectively evoke a Japanese sentiment. This simplification of the set combined with the stereotypical ‘Japanese’ characterisation and costume design are perhaps in danger of misjudging the complex, rich Japanese culture. However, it is important to understand that in this production, Higgins is exploring just one sub-culture of Japan, namely ‘Anime’ and the ‘Maid Cafe’ phenomenon. This cultural exploration works well as a framework for the story of Madam Butterfly and its undertones of sexual exploitation.
One significant difference from Puccini’s original is that it has been rewritten in English by the Olivier award winning Amanda Holden. Apart from that, the story remains much the same. Pinkerton, an American Navy officer, played by Matthew Kimble, has rented a house on a hill in Nagasaki, Japan for him and his fiancée, Butterfly. Butterfly, played by Becca Marriott, is barely 15 years old – naive and idealistic in her attitude towards marriage. It has to be said that Marriott steals the show. Her vocal and acting abilities stand head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, who are certainly still solid performers in their own rights. There were many moments where the sheer power of her voice brought tears to my eyes. Particularly memorable is Butterfly’s dreadful realisation that Pinkerton has remarried. Marriott’s performance is wrought with emotion. She is a magnificent tour de force. Having only recently come on the opera scene, I imagine we will see big things from her. Sarah Denbee plays Butterfly’s maid, Suzuki, and the two of them create some beautiful duets.
Where the production is lacking is in the authenticity of the relationships. While there are many consuming and emotive moments, there are also several unconvincing and awkward ones that remind you that you are not in Nagasaki but that you are, in fact, watching actors on a stage in North London.
The fact that I have not seen an opera on stage before will of course affect my review of Paul Higgins’ reinvented Madam Butterfly, but is this a bad thing? If you are looking for an interesting and emotional performance then this production certainly provides that. I can’t speak for the opera purists, but this is an accessible opera that is thought-provoking, captivating and easy to be swept up by.
Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Translated & Adapted by: Amanda Holden
Director: Paul Higgins
Musical Director: Panaretos Kyriatzidis
Set Designer: Luke W. Robson
Box Office: 0207 226 8561
Booking Link: https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/#/shows/873562312/events/127903032
Booking Until: 18 March 2017