Skip to main content

Comic Opera and New Writing- White Bear

Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph recently bemoaned the ‘rot beneath opera’s plastered surface’ and a certain kind of opera that is pushing away the more conservative of its audiences by dressing itself up with ‘wanton extravagance and ideological cliché.’ Thank goodness then for the short run of comic opera fused with new writing at The White Bear, produced by Irrational Theatre and directed by Paula Chitty and which my broadsheet colleagues would do well to go and see.
Cycle . Kieran and Warren
Cycle, by Joanna Norland with Kieran Cummins and Warren Albers, photo by Paula Chitty
Whilst taking some operas we all know [in this case the much produced Cox and Box, Arthur Sullivan’s first opera] and some we don’t, we do not suffer for a lack of thematic interpretation. Who can fail, whilst watching Cox and Box, a comic tale where two men unknowingly live in the same room, Cox at night and Box at day, to think about London’s horrible housing and high rent situation and not desire at once to rush out and grab Boris Johnson and make him watch the whole palaver, if not to persuade him to enforce better living conditions and the regulation of private landlords? And cleverly arranged around the Sullivan favorite is The Telephone or L’Amour a Trois, by Gian Carlo Menotti, where the tiresomeness of mobiles and our insistent unthinking attachment to them, is cleverly manipulated with some easily recognizable scenarios in this 1940s populist piece, whilst lastly, we are treated to a new play by Joanna Norland, which, through the playful eye of the director, is part Little Britain, part Miranda and part sitcom come musical with its deadpan narrating conscience sung very seriously by Kieran Cummins as though he is a modern day Dante’s Virgil- its only stylistic parallel being Rufus Norris’ successful Vernon God Little some years back.
What a happy treat for opera and new writing lovers who appreciate the mash of sometimes realistic writing with the hyper real transcendence given to us by opera, and how equally wonderful to be able to experience all of this in a studio at the back of a pub, rather than in some huge opera house where the visitor ‘experience’ or HD screenings to cinemas live around the world, seem more important.
And there is one cliché that is immediately exploded, that traditionally opera singers can’t and won’t act- they certainly can and do here and there are some star turns, with Lianne Birkett especially on magnificent and energetic form. Sebastian Charlesworth and Warren Albers pair up wonderfully as Cox and Box too and their trio with Alejandro Lopez Montanya as Bouncer should bring the house down. They are all wonderfully supported by Elizabeth George and pianist Andrew Sleightholme .
The success of this run, which, using mostly the same company, is in rep, is its refusal to get too conscious about what it is doing, or label its works as being ‘tragic’, ‘poetical’ or ‘cathartic’. The achievement lies in its marriage of opposites and extremes- the meeting of new writing with already much performed opera smashes opera’s cosy conventions- and it does it with a laugh too.
Clever and fun, Irrational Theatre’s comic opera and new writing, which includes Claire Dowie’s acclaimed Dead Child/ Adult Child, runs at the White Bear until 17th Jan.

Cast for Menotti’s The Telephone

Lucy - Lianne Birkett
Ben - Alejandro Lopez Montanya
Also features Elizabeth George and Kieran Cummins, Warren Albers.
Cast for Sullivan’s Cox and Box
Box - Warren Albers
Cox – Sebastian Charlesworth
Bouncer - Alejandro Lopez Montanya
Cast for Joanna Norland’s Cycle
Julia – Lianne Birkett
Stuart – Warren Albers
Veronica/ Miranda – Elizabeth George
Conscience *added by the director Kieran Cummins
Director / Designer– Paula Chitty
Costumes – Paula Chitty
Lighting – Bob Grover
Pianist: Andrew Sleightholme 6th 7th 9th 10th
Pianist: Peter Jones 17th


Popular posts from this blog

Collabo- Hip hop with a difference

There’s a buzz in the air at Stratford Circus Arts Centre. No wonder, this is the 10th anniversary of Collabo, Tony Adigun’s annual dance celebration founded in 2006 to promote new collaborations and hip-hop hybrids from dance groups. Friday’s program of short portfolios opens with 10 (UnTitled Dance Company) choreographed by Lukas McFarlane lasting fifteen minutes (no mean feat in the hip-hop world) and featuring 10 tracks and illustrating some super synchronised steps and gyros executed with military precision. The occasional, surprising rigidness of the choreography is broken by experimentation with spoken word. Liberation (What Is Written Dance Company) has the same exactness, but their more simple choreography is easier on the eye after the mass sprawl of 10. Kweku Aacht and Guest Dancers produce an interpretation of a track performed live onstage- the sometimes rowdy crowd shouting out and encouraging the performers on hold their breath as the troupe fluctuate between free style a…

Once in a Lifetime- theatre review: slightly revised to reflect the ambiguous ending

Once in a Lifetime is a show about the tenuous and complicated relationship between creativity and destruction. Re-adapted here by Chris Hart, son of one half of the original writing duo Moss Hart and George S Kaufman, the show may well be set in 1930s Hollywood just as the talkies are about to change cinema forever, but it might also be poking fun at an art form that is a little closer to home. Director Richard Jones always takes risks with little produced, marginalised or very well known works in a bid to uncover something new that might be a comment on our own times. Here, a story about hapless Vaudeville trio act George (John Marquez), Jerry (Kevin Bishop) and May (Claudie Blakley), who set out to conquer Hollywood with their mythic elocution school, is the perfect fit for the director to explore themes that seem to obsess him: national myth, parody, the tyranny of power, willed self-destruction, bureaucracy, global fantasy, etc. So far, the show has not gone down so well with the c…

Walking the Tightrope- Theatre Delicatessen

Site-specific set? Perhaps. In the old Guardian offices in Farringdon, Offstage Theatre and Theatre Uncut curate a cycle of 12 short plays exploring the tension[s] between art and politics, reactions to the budget cuts to the arts in the UK and debate freedom of expression controversies. Corruption, class divides, perception, blood money, gesture politics and culpability, it’s all there and recent topical events are given stage time, from The Tricycle’s controversial decision to withdraw their support for the UK Jewish Film Festival to the Barbican’s cancelled Exhibit B. The plays are entertaining- Sun City by April De Angelis, Re: Exhibit by Gbolahan Obisesan, Old Newland by Julie Pascal, Tickets are on Sale Now by Caryl Churchill and Exhibit A, by Neil LaBute, all deserve special mention for looking beyond the parameters of funding and freedom of expression in the UK arts- by which of course, I mean a theatrical London still surfing the very last trickling waves of Colonialism and it…