The intimate and unavoidably fringe feel of the Kings Head Theatre lends itself well to this fresh and exciting adaptation of the classic opera Carmen. In true Carmen style, the party started outside with the guitarist perched on the bar, and Christina Gill, (who played Carmen) addressing the peoplein the room: “I don’t want to party with people who don’t want to party”. As Don Jose (Christopher Diffey) in the role of pub security demanded she step down from the table, the cast sang harmoniously and clapped intricately and emotively until, after two entertaining songs and countless intimate moments with the men of the audience, we partied on in.
The set, designed by Joana Dias and Jamie Vartan, accurately portrayed the shared house of young adults, who clearly hadn’t really matured into ‘adult’ society. The walls were covered in magazine cuttings, fairy lights, stolen sign posts and the classic traffic cone. Although slightly distracting, it was homely and helped paint an immediate picture of what these characters were like after seeing their bawdy behaviour in the pub moments before.
The opera had been artistically condensed into an hour and a half, which worked exceptionally well as there was constant excitement and passion throughout without any fidget-worthy moments; refreshing for an opera. All singers took on their characters competently. Their dress, quirky tattoos and hairstyles reminded me of This is England’ and the idea of a gritty underworld was just as prevalent. Christina Gill fulfilled the sensual and powerful role of Carmen, putting her dark and enticing eyes to good use on Don Jose, Escamillo and the admiring audience. Christopher Diffey as Don Jose, sang with every note perfectly in its place and his subservience to Carmen felt believable. However, I thought feelings of sadness overrode the anger that essentially leads him to kill Carmen. Having said that, perhaps his emotions were subverted to the technical needs of the song and the act of smashing her head against the back wall was enough. The girls (Mercedes, played by Olivia Barry and Frasquita, played by Fleur de Bray) injected comedy with their archetypal girlish and playful characters, which helped to counteract the dark emotions and issues of Carmen’s plot line. The boys, Dancairo (Jamie Rock) and Remendado (Adam Crockatt), were the brains behind the group’s criminal antics, and sang safely within the harmonies. They would have gone almost unnoticed if it were not for their character roles of skilled drug dealer, and bespectacled, quiff-sporting fashionista. Nicolas Dwyer was suitably alpha male in the role of Escamillo, commanding the stage from his entrance. He had a presence that resonated even off-stage in the anxiety of the other characters. The apparent fun that the supporting characters were having did make me want to join in, and that can only be evidence of their energy and dynamic performance.
The adaptation, by director Rodula Gaitanou (and Olivia Howe as Assistant Director), was set in modern day north – London, which was apt for the theatre location. The sense of place was slightly lost in the diversity of the accents but it did not hinder the emotion and performance on the whole. I thought the idea of flat-share living mixed with the petty crime and quirks of the characters worked extremely well as a concept for Carmen. It managed to bring the form of opera to a new generation, while maintaining the classic and traditional style. With an array of individuals in the talented cast combined with the imaginative and daring creative team, this modern day Carmen explores the gritty London underworld and the lows that love seems to bring, especially when dealing with Carmen .
Carmen is playing at the Kings Head Theatre until 14 May. For more information and tickets, see the Kings Head Theatre website.