Lend Me a Tenor (Hornchurch)

Matt Devitt’s new production of the original version of Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” is a hilarious (and melodious) affair from start to finish.

You don't have to be an opera-goer to enjoy this clever farce, but you'll get something extra from it if you know your Verdi. And anyone who has ever had a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the glorious mayhem involved in even the best-run opera house will chuckle even more.

Fred Broom & Greg Last
Fred Broom & Greg Last
© Mark Sepple

Thanks to designer Mark Walters, we are faced with an over-the-top double set, a reception room and bedroom decorated in the worst possible deuxième empire taste – all gilding and the wrong shades of turquoise and magenta. It's the penthouse suite which impresario Saunders has taken for the Italian star flown in to take the title role in Otello for a gala performance.

We all know about prima donna tantrums. They're nothing to those of a primo uomo who is disinclined to rehearse (remember, he's never met the company before), takes a pass at any girl who takes his fancy and has rather too much affection for his food and his wine. Not to mention his volatile wife who comes along to try to control him.

Saunders' problems also include his dogsbody Max, himself an aspiring tenor, and his wiful daughter Maggie. Oh yes, and then there are the diamond-draped ladies of the opera guild who need to be kept sweet. Sean Needham plays Saunders as a man perpetually at the end of his fraying tether, and he's very funny doing it.

Our hero is Max (Greg Last), given to making love to Maggie (Sarah Scowen) with snatches of arias. "Celeste Aida", though, leaves her cold. Scowen spends a lot of her time being locked inside various closets and bathrooms (the set is well provided with doors).

Who she wants (as does every other female on stage – and at least one of the men) is megastar Tito Merelli. Fred Broom gives a brilliant cameo of the man, self-centred in so many ways, yet prepared to be generous with time and practical advice for Max. Their version of the "Dio,che nell'alma infondere" friendship duet from Don Carlo thoroughly earned its applause.

The two Opera Guild ladies – Georgina Field as Julia and Christine Holman as Diana – give fine studies in sweetened bitchiness. Sarah Mahony is Maria Merelli, as histrionic as her husband and much given to flouncing out of rooms. Then there's the opera-struck camp bellhop (Steve Simmonds)…

As the days draw in, you couldn't ask for a show which leaves you with such a glow of purr enjoyment. Top marks to all concerned!

Lend Me a Tenor runs at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch until 25 October.