Carmen – King’s Head Theatre, 10 April 2012
I keep returning to the Covent Garden of pub opera, the King's Head, even though the only worthwhile venture I’ve seen there so far has been Mark Ravenhill’s Coronation of Poppea.
This unfocussed new Carmen could have done with a Ravenhill – or indeed any decent dramatist – to kick it into shape. All the most hummable bits of Bizet’s opera are squeezed into a meandering new hour-long plot via a clunky English libretto, a bashed-up piano and an underutilised guitar. But nobody seems to have remembered that an audience needs a reason to care for the characters.
The evening kicked off with a squally but enthusiastic sing-song in the packed bar to the tune of L’amour est un oiseau rebelle. After a ten minute break for the audience to squeeze into the back room theatre and argue over who’d pinched whose reserved seat, the show finally got under way. In Rodula Gaitanou's update, Carmen lives in a garish hovel with escaped convict Escamillo and a gang of petty thieves, but falls for straight-laced bouncer Don Jose. She refuses to run away with him; he does her in.
The superimposed comedy wasn’t funny, and the cast’s mumbled attempts at spoken dialogue were simply inaudible. But the final one-on-one showdown between Carmen and Jose benefited from the intimate scale of the venue and the compelling conviction of the performers, Christina Gill and Christopher Diffey. More of this exploration of the emotional predicament of the protagonists and fewer cheap gags would have improved this effort no end.