Soho Theatre, London – until 7 October 2017
Late one night, a couple fights in bed. After falling asleep angry, Tamino fitfully dreams of a nightclub, a beautiful girl and a quest to save her. He is accompanied by a cheerful sidekick and is given a magic flute by the Queen of the Night, a glamorous celebrity who strokes his ego and stokes his curiosity.
OperaUpClose’s latest recontextualisation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute takes shape through a brand new English libretto by Glyn Maxwell. Inspired by the distorted landscapes and stories in dreams, there are plenty of bright colours and surreal narrative elements. Unfortunately, the lack of clear transitions and constantly shifting story doesn’t support understanding for those who are less familiar with the original opera.
Director Valentina Ceschi effectively captures the fluidity in Maxwell’s script, though the simple, rotating set isn’t always enough to indicate location. There’s the nightclub, the couple’s bedroom, and various other amorphous places that may or may not connect to the scenes around them. She finds a good pace that makes the two-hour running time pass quickly despite the muddled text that takes entirely too long to reveal its plot.
The cast of six are expressive and have great chemistry. A smaller venue helps support performance subtlety and it’s easy to see why the company are committed to updating operas for smaller venues.
But no level of intimacy or updating makes this adaptation easy to follow. Vague locations and a script that doesn’t provide adequate exposition or narrative elements confuse rather than elucidate this art form that has a reputation for only being accessible to the highest of high culture connoisseurs.
The Magic Flute runs through 7 October.
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