In the King’s Head Theatre four singers and a trio of instruments make a brave effort to perform Tosca and the outcome is interesting. This is achieved despite an awkward transition from the original Rome in 1800 to 1980s’ GDR in East Berlin. There are some moments which are compelling, and some singing which is extremely fine but there are also some weak points which, on balance, detract from the work’s dramatic thrust towards its ultimate tragedy. I find for example the replacement of the Angelus in Act 1 by The Red Flag rather incongruous, as is the use of a rather smart paper shredder in Act 2, which I suspect was not a piece of equipment the Stasi would be using in 1989. However it very cleverly symbolises the power which Scarpia has to eliminate people.
Full marks must go to Danyal Dhondy for a very workable transposition of Puccini’s orchestration down to a trio admirably played by Elspeth Wilkes (Music Director), William Rudge and Kimberley Ward on piano, cello and clarinet respectively. Although it is a pity that the shepherd boy’s song is nearly lost, appearing instead as a sort of musical interlude in the second interval. The wonderful climax to Act 1 is also lost due to the small scale production.
James Harrison’s Scarpia is powerfully sung with great commitment and fine phrasing. Becca Marriott, Floria Tosca, gives a good interpretation and really looks the part, but she loses much of her dialogue through poor diction. Edward Hughes sings Cavaradossi well, but his acting is unconvincing and he fails to look the part. Miles Horner really has his hands full with the trio of characters he has to portray but delivers all three, particularly Spoletta, in a very convincing style.
Overall I found that this reworking really gains nothing from the re-writing and re-orientation, and it suffers from patchy direction in the handling of the relationships between the three principle characters, in particular Tosca and Cavaradossi.