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Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Barber of Seville (Or Salisbury) at The King's Head in Islington

Dan Crawford founded the King’s Head Theatre in 1970. It was the first pub theatre founded in England since the days of Shakespeare. The building has been around since the mid 1800’s, the back room where the theatre is located used to be a boxing ring and a pool hall!

In May of this year Adam Spreadbury-Maher took over the artistic direction; and thanks to him, with the help of Robin Norton-Hale, OperaUpClose became resident at the theatre in Islington. It is programmed as ‘London’s Little Opera House’ aiming to produce classic operas with new interpretations. The season kicks off with Rossini’s light-hearted Barber of Seville (Or Salisbury), which uses a new translation by director Norton-Hale.

The production is funny thanks to Norton-Hale’s sparkling witty script that acts as a wonderful match for Rossini’s joyous music. OperaUpClose is a good name, as this opera is literally in your face, and at times is surprisingly loud, especially if you are used to hearing opera in a theatre as massive as the Coliseum. I mostly enjoyed this unusual intimacy; opera is still such a specialised elite genre, and I find it encouraging that there are companies emerging like OperaUpClose that allow it to reach more people.

The set and props are minimal and have an obvious budget feel - the audience are definitely required to use their imagination. This is a little distracting at the start when the singers just stand to sing their arias, but once the real drama started I found I forgot about the lack of set and costumes and I let the music entertain me. For accompaniment the singers have just a lone piano, clunking along in the corner; the poor pianist, Alison Luz plays furiously throughout but doesn’t have a particularly pleasant sounding instrument.

I absolutely loved watching Philip Lee as the Marquis of Bath... his facial expressions and gestures are hilarious and he produces some thoroughly entertaining drama with Berlinda Evans (Rosina) and Dickon Gough (Dr Bartleby). The smaller characters aren’t quite as convincing, I found Georgios Papaefstratiou as Mr Basil very unnerving to watch, and his voice is totally bizarre. He stumbles about the stage with a glazed expression. Maybe I picked out these absurdities because I was sitting so close to the action, and really should concentrate on the singing, which I found to be, on the whole, very good.

Perhaps with The Barber of Seville the OperaUpClose team is just having a few teething problems. I do believe this theatre company is one to watch and really admire its ambition.

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