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Carmen - Union Theatre

Carmen 1808, Union Theatre – Review

Pros: A good way for opera novices to sample the genre. 

Cons: Opera purists and Carmen fans may not enjoy the changes or mix of styles.

Pros: A good way for opera novices to sample the genre.  Cons: Opera purists and Carmen fans may not enjoy the changes or mix of styles. Inspired by recent world occurrences, the Phil Willmott Company has taken the music and storyline of Bizet’s Carmen and adapted it to reflect events pictured in the Goya painting The Third of May 1808. Napoleon has invaded Spain, intending to put his brother on the Spanish throne. In May 1808 Napoleon’s troops round up and execute hundreds of Spanish citizens. The Goya painting depicts this execution of the masses, and is worth looking…

Summary

Rating

Good

A lively and enjoyable mix of operatic and west end musical style songs, incorporating some excellent dance routines, with passion, betrayal and humour thrown in. 

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Inspired by recent world occurrences, the Phil Willmott Company has taken the music and storyline of Bizet’s Carmen and adapted it to reflect events pictured in the Goya painting The Third of May 1808. Napoleon has invaded Spain, intending to put his brother on the Spanish throne. In May 1808 Napoleon’s troops round up and execute hundreds of Spanish citizens. The Goya painting depicts this execution of the masses, and is worth looking up beforehand to really appreciate its re-creation – to great effect – at the poignant end of this production.

It’s thought that Goya suffered from a rare autoimmune condition, leading to hearing and sight loss and hallucinations. Goya (Alexander Barria) serves as a narrator and observer throughout, although without some background knowledge his presence would be confusing.

Barria is excellent, with a good voice and clear diction, although I would have liked to have heard more from him – he was underused here. He is usually on the outskirts of the action, observing a band of rebels which includes Carmen (Rachel Lea-Gray) whose speciality is the seduction of soldiers in order to obtain information. But when she falls for new kid on the block Captain Velarde (Maximilian Marston), passion and betrayal follow.

Bizet’s music has been set to different words, and mixed in with some new songs. I found some of the rhymes to be a bit forced, but the mix of operatic and West End musical styles generally worked well. Choreographer Adam Haigh deserves a mention for the excellent dance numbers. The strength of this production was in the big numbers involving the whole cast: they seemed to feed off each other’s energy, gaining confidence and revelling in a joyful exuberance, especially as this is the first professional engagement for many of them.

A few things made me smile, such as the plethora of fans and plastic knives, and the preposterous French accents (think Monty Python’s Holy Grail) towards the end. The costumes evoked Spanish or French style (as required), and the set with its atmospheric smoke and lighting made the small space seem much larger.

If you know nothing about Carmen or are uncertain about opera, this is an excellent access route. It lasts only 90 minutes and you will recognise more music than you might realise.

Book and Lyrics: Phil Willmott
Director: Phil Willmott
Music: Georges Bizet
Arranged by: Teddy Clements
Choreographer: Adam Haigh
Costume design: Penn O’Gara
Booking Until: 10 March
Box Office: 020 7261 9876
Booking Link: http://www.uniontheatre.biz/carmen.html

About Irene Lloyd

Currently a desk zombie in the public sector, Irene has had no formal training or experience in anything theatrical. She does, however, seem to spend an awful lot of her spare time and spare cash going to the theatre. So, all views expressed will be from the perspective of the person on the Clapham omnibus - which is what most audiences are made up of after all.