REVIEW: Carmen, King’s Head Theatre

Intimate, romantic and passionate – This modern take on Bizet’s Carmen is an opera you’ll feel you can relate to.

(c)Nick Rutter.

When I heard about a modernisation of the classic opera, Carmen, I was a little sceptical. How on earth could the passion of an unruly woman in Spain be translated into modern British culture? British people aren’t often associated with romance or passion so I was curious as to how it would work.

Happily, I was pleasantly surprised. Mary Franklin and Ashley Pearson have been very witty in their choices – making Escamillo a football player, and making the Toreador Song into a football chant was incredibly unexpected and entertaining.

I think the most bizarre aspect, especially for people who already know Carmen, is that it is quite strange to hear the same arias been sung in modern English. Having Jose and Carmen swearing at each other in English slurs definitely took some getting used to!

This production had a heavy focus on the quote, “Love will set you free”, even having the words illuminated on the stage in big red letters. It was used frequently throughout the performance, taking the audience outside of scenes themselves and into the wider narrative of relationships and their downfalls. It was also used in transitions and was, I think, a very smart choice to remind the audience of the true story of Carmen, behind the modern facade that it had been given.

One aspect I wasn’t keen on was the set design for the final scene. Throughout the rest of the performance, curtains had been used to dress the back of the stage to show various locations, such as a petrol station. However for the final scene, a gauze-like curtain with the print of football fans at a match was held up in front of the stage. Whilst very effective, it was really frustrating to watch as I couldn’t fully connect with the actors, especially Carmen’s performance. This scene is so important for the story and it was the only part that really disappointed me because it felt like I wasn’t getting to see it properly, as the curtain could been seen through but wasn’t fully transparent. I understand the creative reasonings behind the choice but I think that the audience being able to view the show at all times should always be a priority.

Despite this, Jane Monari (Carmen), Mike Bradley (Jose) and Dan D’Souza (Escamillio) all gave excellent performances with excellent chemistry between all of them. The power and grit of the piece was at the forefront of their performances, and in a space as intimate as the Kings Head Theatre, this translated very well. It sometimes felt like the passion of the piece was a little lost as it seemed like Carmen was just being manipulative as opposed to seductive, however I suppose in a more modern world, Carmen would probably take a character like that more, especially in Britain where feelings aren’t as openly expressed.

Overall, I really enjoyed this production of Carmen. It could never replace the original story, but it was a fun experience and was interesting to see a new take on it. It was a very entertaining night out that would be enjoyable for any fan of this beautiful opera.

By Emily Schofield 

Carmen continues to play at the King’s Head Theatre until  the 9th March.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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