Opera della Luna at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford

Updating a classic Viennese operetta is not a simple task, particularly when the piece in question is Johann Strauss’ best-known and much-loved confection “Die Fledermaus”. But Jeff Clarke’s version for Opera della Luna works splendidly. The score has been reduced for a chamber ensemble of seven instrumentalists and the cast numbers eight with two roles doubled and no chorus.

We are in modern London, initially in the stylish pad of Jerome Gabriel Eisenstein – a raucously brash City trader – and his Australian trophy wife Rosalinde. They have the services of Adele as PDA (personal domestic administrator) but his lawyer has failed to reduce Eisenstein’s legal requirement to attend a rehab clinic for being in possession of certain banned substances. He, of course, would much prefer to attend a Hallowe’en singles night at the louche Orlofsky club. You get the drift…

Clarke directs with a sure hand and the cast put it over with great skill both musically and dramatically. The largely symbolic settings are by Gabriella Csanyi-Wills and she’s devised some marvellously over-the-top costumes for the second act around a palette of red, black and white. Eisenstein chooses a flared Elvis get-up, Falke reprises the bat outfit which caused all the trouble in the first place and Orlovsky (Simon Butterkiss) has a nice line in androgynous stripes. Philip Cox as clinic director Frank (speciality: colonic irrigation) confines himself to a devilish wig.

The two sopranos – Lisa Anne Robinson as Rosalinde and Helen Massey as Adele – soar away effortlessly in their arias and in ensemble. Stephen Svanholm gives Falke a more dangerous edge than usual; it really was extremely silly of Andy Morton’s Eisenstein to play that lamp-post joke on him, not to mention keeping on dragging it into the conversation. Gareth Dafydd Morris is the stentorian Alfred while lawyer Dr Blinde and Adele’s sister Ida are a nicely contrasted double by Ilana Jacobs.

There is no drunken monologue-spewing jailer Frosch in this version. Instead the scene change between chez Orlofsky and the Frank Clinic for Addiction Therapy is covered by an invasion of the aisles by Eisenstein and Frank as they stagger back from the party shedding and shredding their adopted French personas as they go. It could be embarrassing; in fact it’s hilarious, with impeccable timing and a perfect rapport with the audience. These are young performers who can put over spiced-up English dialogue as surely as a Viennese waltz song.

- Anne Morley-Priestman