REVIEW: Carmen 1808, Union Theatre

Phil Willmott’s production based on Bizet’s beloved opera has plenty of passion and Spanish flair to make for a highly engaging experience. 

(c)Scott Rylander.

It is always interesting to see what the Union theatre can do with its cosy space and for this production of Carmen 1808, the audience really feel involved with the unfolding events thanks to Adam Haigh’s lively choreography and the authentic looking set design by Justin Williams and Jonny Rust, sweeping the audience back to Spain and the  Dos de Mayo Uprising of 1808 effectively.

Although Phil Willmott’s production places Georges Bizet’s gorgeous music (with a few adaptations it has to be said) right at the heart of the story, the plot and characters are reimagined in this equally passionate and fiery musical. In this adaptation, Carmen is a gypsy spy attempting to find out  military secrets during Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and relaying them to the student resistance by seducing soldiers – but what she doesn’t count on is falling in love herself. It is a story that is certainly filled with plenty of drama, passion and politics that keeps the audience engaged throughout.

Despite some of the accents not overly convincing (the French ones perhaps over exaggerated) and some of the notes in the songs don’t quite ring clearly enough, there is no denying the chemistry and Spanish flair that is extremely convincing and consistent throughout the production – with the occasional hint of Les Miserables about it.

This is particularly shown through Adam Haigh’s strongly defined choreography during moments such as during the Toreador Song, highlighting every character’s passion perfectly and makes the audience want to get up and join the resistance. Every element of the choreography makes full use of the limited space as well as being extremely creative.

Phil Willmott’s book completely allows the audience to fully absorb the story effectively, with fabulous depth to the characters – despite some moments such as the death of Javier not given enough focus or making full use of the dramatic tension of the moment properly. There are also a few weak links with his lyrics as well – shown particularly during ‘Soldier Keep Yourself Alert’ which doesn’t quite fit the music as well as it should. But his production is still vibrant and exciting to watch on fold – thanks to the charismatic performances from all of his cast.

Leading the way as Carmen, Rachel Lea-Gray expertly showcases all of the conflicting elements of Carmen’s personality from being a flirtatious seducer, a passionate and jealous lover to an intelligent young woman who would do anything for her country. It is a performance that requires great balance and skill which Lea-Gray handles with ease.

Elsewhere, Maximilian Marston puts in a strong performance as Captain Velarde – strongly moral but as unable to resist Carmen’s temptations as the next man. It is a performance of passion and torment that is again nicely judged. The entire ensemble give their all to this production and to their credit the dedication and power of their performances adds to the richness of the experience.

A highly engaging and interesting adaptation of this classic story, Carmen 1808 is well worth a trip to the Union Theatre.

Carmen 1808 continues to play at the Union Theatre until the 10th March. For more information and to book tickets visit:

Rating: ❤❤❤❤


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