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A CurtainUp London London Review
La Boheme

Your fingers are half frozen. Let me warm them in my own. — Rodolfo
La Boheme
Gareth Morris as Rodolfo and Belinda Evans as Mimi (Photo: Soho Theatre)
This production of La Boheme from the company Opera Up Close has set records on the Fringe at the Cock Tavern in Kilburn for the longest running continuous showing of a single opera. Why? Because each of the main roles will be played by up to four singers and the venue is very small, so, with a buzz created, it is easy to sell out the tiny number of seats on a long run compared with the enormously capacious opera houses.

Now transferred from the pub theatre in Kilburn to the Soho Theatre, this production does what it says on the tin. It is opera up close and accessible. We are thrown into the bohemian lifestyle of students living in an attic flat in Soho. Rodolfo (Gareth Morris) is a writer, a wannabe novelist, his operatic tenor chunky girth clothed in jeans and t-shirts, and his hair gelled into spikes. Mimi (Belinda Evans) is the sweet natured girl from the Ukraine living in London and working as a cleaner.

In the most detailed set, Kate Guinness and Lucy Read have created a one attic room with posters and student ephemera with the sole instrumental musician seated at a baby grand piano providing the accompaniment. It is Christmas time and the number of Christmas fairy lights show that these students are not overly concerned about the electricity bill or global warming. Most of their income, as with students today, seems to be spent on alcohol.

Act Two is set on a bar on Dean Street in Soho and so we as the audience move downstairs in the theatre to the adjoining bar where suddenly people we had thought ordinary drinkers turn out to be the chorus and others who tumble in from the street turn out to be fun loving Musetta (Louise Lloyd) and her boyfriend and sugar daddy corporate lawyer Alcindoro (Martin Nelson). This is the most fun as, seated or standing in the bar, we can watch the reaction of passersby walking down Dean Street, hearing these divine voices and wondering where the music is coming from and staring through the plate glass windows trying to make out what is going on inside! It's a crush in the bar but superbly atmospheric.

The singing is outstanding from these opera stars of the future and the closeness to the stage creates an intensity impossible to experience in the loftier operatic spaces. The acting too has to be less exaggerated as everyone in the audience can see well. Belinda Evans has a wonderfully sweet voice and her duets with Gareth Morris are outstanding. Louise Lloyd as Musetta enjoys her spat and the romantic roller coaster ride with her on-off artist boyfriend Marcello (Michael Davies) who, in Act Four, will sing about the women they have loved and lost with Rodolfo. The wonderful music sees the full blown tragedy reach its sad end with a very grey looking Mimi's demise.

This is the first time the Soho Theatre has staged an opera and well worth seeing in this contemporary version.

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La Boheme
Music by Giacomo Puccini
New English version and direction by Robin Norton-Hale

Starring: Belinda Evans (Rosalind Coad, Pamela Hay, Elinor Jane Morgan), Gareth Morris (Robin Bailey, Anthony Flaum, Toby Scholz), Louise Lloyd (Louise Alder, Rhian Lois, Clare Presland), Michael Davis (Nicholas Dwyer, Benjamin Seifert)
With: Martin Nelson (David Freeman, Ian Wilson-Pope), Charles de Bromhead (Ian Wilson-Pope), Julien Debreuil (Dickon Gough, Alistair Sutherland), Marcin Kopec (Tom Kennedy, John Savourin)
Design: Kate Guinness and Lucy Read
Lighting: Christopher Nairne
Musical Director: Andrew Charity
Running time: Two hours 05 minutes with two intervals
Box Office: 0870 429 6883
Booking to 4th September 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th July 2010 at the Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE (Tube: Tottenham Court Road)
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Love Changes Everything (Alex)
  • A small theatre in Montphile (Rose, Marcel, actress, Alex)
  • Parlez-vous Franšais? (Crooner, Alex, Rose, Marcel, Waiter and Actors)
  • The railway station (Alex and Rose)
  • Seeing is Believing (Alex and Rose)
  • The house in Pau (Alex and Rose)
  • An art exhibition in Paris (George and Giulietta)
  • A Memory of a Happy Moment (Giulietta and George)
  • In many rooms in the house at Pau (Rose and Alex)
  • On the terrace ( George, Alex and Rose)
  • Outside the bedroom (Rose and Alex)
  • Chanson d'Enfance (Rose and Alex)
  • At the house at Pau (Rose and Alex)
  • Everybody Loves A Hero (Harkers and Ensemble)
  • George's flat in Paris (Alex and Rose)
  • First orchestral interlude (Alex, Servant, Rose and George)
  • She'd Be Far Better Off with You (George and Alex)
  • Second Orchestral interlude (orchestra)
  • Stop. Wait. Please. (George, Giulietta and Rose)
  • A registry office (George, Rose and Giulietta)
  • A military camp in Malaysia (Alex)
Act Two
  • Orchestral introduction to Act II (orchestra)
  • A theatre in Paris (Marcel, Rose, actress and Hugo)
  • Leading Lady (Marcel, Rose, Alex and Hugo)
  • At the stage door (Rose and Alex)
  • George's house at Pau (George and Jenny)
  • Other Pleasures (George)
  • A cafë in Venice (Giulietta)
  • There is More to Love (Giulietta)
  • The garden in Pau (George, Jenny, Rose and Alex)
  • Mermaid Song (Jenny, Alex and George)
  • The country side around the house (Third orchestral interlude) (orchestra)
  • The garden at Pau (Jenny, Alex and Rose)
  • On the terrace (George, Hugo, Alex, Rose and Jenny)
  • The First Man You Remember (George and Jenny)
  • The vineyard at Pau (George, Rose, Alex, Jenny, Hugo and Workmen)
  • Up in the Pyrenees (Jenny and Alex)
  • George's study at Pau (George and Rose)
  • Journey of a Lifetime (Chanteuse, Ensemble, Geogre, Rose, Alex and Jenny)
  • Falling (Alex, Jenny, Rose and George)
  • Jenny's bedroom in Paris (Alex, Jenny, George, Rose and Hugo)
  • Hand Me the Wine and the Dice (Giulietta, Chorus, Alex, Jenny, Rose, Hugo and Marcel)
  • A hay loft (Giulietta and Alex)
  • On the terrace (Alex, Jenny and Rose)
  • Anything But Lonely (Rose, Alex, Giulietta)

Note: most of the musical is sung, however not all the parts that are sung are titled songs some are simply sung-through scenes with minor amounts of dialogue.

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