Pros: Hilarious performances, beautiful singing and outstanding design.
Cons: Without an orchestra some of Mozart’s magic is lost.
Simon Bejer’s engrossing set and Nicholas Holdridge’s atmospheric lighting really made me feel like I’d travelled quite a distance. Like Tamino (Robin Bailey) who lay on the floor before the performance began, I felt a little bit lost. Vines cover the walls and ceiling, and the three sides of the audience frame a cosy performance space; so cosy that I did see somebody whisper ‘sorry’ to Tamino as they climbed over his legs to their seat. But such a small space is easily filled by the small cast, and Holdridge cleverly uses the lights shining through the leaves to focus on different areas as the characters move from scene to scene.
I did worry that, in such a confined space, nine operatic voices might be a little overwhelming, but the leaves all around serve to dampen some of that sound and allow the audience to hear the fantastic singing without impairment. There is no weak member of this cast, and there are some magnificent performances. Bailey’s Tamino was a particular favourite of mine: his voice is both strong and soothing, and you can’t help but feel he is exploring this jungle with you by his side. Hannah Sawle is a chilling Queen of the Night in tribal make up and costume, and had us in awe with her acrobatic aria in the second act, even if some of her diction was lost. Papageno (Matthew Kellett) is a hilarious character, fully embraced and loved in this performance, while Emily Jane Thomas shows great depth as Pamina, both in love and in heartbreak. Thomas deserves particular credit since we were told by Executive Director Fiona English that she was ill, but soldiered on regardless – we would hardly have known.
Special mention must go, as well, to the three Ladies (Jennifer Begley, Sarah Champion and Polly Leech) for their fantastic portrayal of so many characters. They go from wise devotees to fearsome jungle dwellers, and use Bejer’s imaginatively designed puppets in wickedly funny and engaging ways, deftly singing their way through snakes and birds and coming together as an old hag. The puppets truly bring to life some of the magic you would expect in such a production.
Now I have to admit to one moment of snobbery: the opera is only accompanied by a piano, and without an orchestra some of the true magic of Mozart’s score is lost. Whilst there are times you forget the absence, drawn in by the engaging singing, there are still some points in the performance where something is truly lacking. Such is the risk of a boutique opera, but the engaging, hilarious performances and outstanding design make this a refreshing new version of The Magic Flute that leaves you humbled by its message of knowledge, wisdom and peace. I am not new to seeing opera, but had this been my first live opera, it certainly wouldn’t be my last.
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Director: John Savournin
Writers: John Savournin and David Eaton
Musical Director: David Eaton
Box Office: 020 7226 8561
Booking Link: https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873572022/events/128099909
Booking Until: 3 June 2017