Porgy and Bess collaborates vocal excellence with truthful relationships and powerful drama to amalgamate into a visual and audible rollercoaster.
Porgy and Bess, a well-known George and Ira Gershwin classic; also written by Dubose and Dorothy Heyward, is a story of unrequited love and lust, objectification of women and challenging the imbalance of the justice system towards men and women of a minority ethnicity during the 1920s in America. Porgy (Eric Greene) is a crippled beggar with low aspirations. He clearly has “a sof’ spot” for Bess (Nicole Cabell), however Bess’s lover and owner Crown (Nmon Ford), when not in jail or running from the police, tries his hardest to stop their unrequited love. Not too dissimilar to Shakespeare, the structure of the story is clear and episodic with the jester-like Sporting Life (Frederick Ballentine) meddling with the whole affair and trying to seduce Bess for himself. The rock of the show is Ciara (Nadine Benjamin), who is mourning the loss of her husband Robbins (Chaz’men Williams-Ali) and anchoring the indecisive Porgy and Bess.
The incredible budget allows a visually stunning revolve with a well-maintained wooden frame of a commune shared by the close-knit community of the Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina. Benjamin’s lullaby “Summer Time”, perhaps the most famous song from the show, sets the scene for the squalid conditions shared by all. The energy is explosive as the men play craps and the women try their best to discourage their men.
For me, the steal of the show is Ballentine’s Sporting Life; his clarity within his actions and the way he distils this into his lyrical pursuit is exciting and involving even from the other side of the rift that is the beautifully sounding ENO Orchestra conducted by John Wilson. It is slightly harder to appreciate the talents of Cabell with her gorgeous long vowels taking precedent over her consonants requiring that extra effort to visually make her intentions clear and precise. A little helping hand from projections above the Coliseum stage is appreciated and at times necessary, yet other times a little distracting and can be very tempting to steal the focus.
At times the journey feels prolonged with moments of Chekhovian-like existing, however these are quickly broken by energetic moments of sudden catastrophe. To put it simply, director James Robinson does not leave you in one place in your seat. If you struggle to understand or aspire to sit through an opera and even the form makes you feel repulsed, Porgy and Bess will give you a clear story, at times difficult to engage with the purposefully indulgent vowels from some singers, but mostly very exciting and effective action!
Porgy and Bess is playing London Coliseum until 17 November. For more information and tickets, click here.