OperaUpClose's La bohème started life
above a grimy pub in Kilburn three years ago and has now clocked up 300
performances, a landmark to add to its Whatsonstage and Olivier Awards. You now have a chance to catch it on what may
well be its final London run, at the Charing Cross Theatre, under the arches
and the occasional rumble of commuter trains.
Puccini’s lyricism gets pulled out
of shape, especially in the student scenes where you could almost be listening
to Berg, and a keener eye could be kept on the storytelling, but the
production’s vitality is still there and the updated scenario, complete with
witty and anachronistic improvisations, keeps things fresh.
OUC’s staging of the second act
was always a bit of a gimmick but a darn good one and, if an element of danger
is now missing, it still holds surprises in an inventive re-realising of the
original idea that suits the new venue perfectly.
Casting is shared amongst multiple
casts, inevitably for a continuous run, and so you take pot luck on who you
get. At the 300th performance
Gareth Morris’s Rodolfo was the biggest and best voice this reviewer has heard
in the various incarnations of the show and the girls were particularly
strong. Rhona Mckail’s “Mi chiamano
Mimi” was the best singing of the evening and there was some lovely work from
her and Morris in the duets. Una
Reynolds was a sexily refined Musetta and she sparked nicely off Nick Dwyer’s
handsome Marcello and Martin Nelson’s exasperated Alcindoro.
It’s easy to forget the sterling
work that OUC’s pianist does, replacing Puccini’s wonderful orchestrations with
a driving accompaniment that always sheds new light on the score, and Genevieve
Ellis was on top form.
can't be recommended highly enough as a first opera outing. It has charm and wit and flies by (judicious
cuts from an already taut script helps move things along). The experienced operagoer seeing their
umpteenth performance of the opera will leave satisfied too, if youthful
exuberance and inventiveness are acceptable substitutions for the standard of
singing we’re used to in London.