Thursday, 28 June 2007

Kismet - ENO at the Coliseum

ENO at the Coliseum Theatre: 26th June - 14th July
Directed by: Gary Griffen
Conductors: Richard Hickox and Simon Lee
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Mayhew - Drama Teacher

As frothy entertainment goes Kismet has a lot going for it. Whilst this 1953 musical hasn’t the conscience of Showboat, say, or the intellectual weight of a piece like West Side Story there is plenty therein to please most West End aficionados. The original play by Edward Knoblock is solid, and a great success itself from 1911 onwards. The exquisitely lyrical music of Borodin has been plundered with some tact and discretion by Robert Wright and George Forrest and the lyrics are no sillier than is par for this style of course. The “oriental” kitsch is, at best, a wonderful opportunity for designer campery. So a good night could be had by all.

Sadly this was scarcely the case for me at the Coliseum, and I am first in the queue when it comes to good hearted, simple and entertaining nights out. This was in no way the fault (or responsibility) of the performers. These were uniformly a joy. The gravitas of the older men was a real treat – superb characterisation and dark velvety tones from Donald Maxwell’s Omar and Graeme Danby’s Wazir. Michael Ball as the shifty Jack the Lad poet drove the shaky plot onwards with extraordinary verve and energy and his Frankie Laine bravura powered over fine orchestral playing under Richard Hickox. Sarah Tynan and Alfie Boe were classic juvenile leads, attractive, sweet voiced and utterly engaging. Touches of louche humour and decorous decadence were added by Julian Curry and Faith Prince as the master brigand and the wife of wives to the Wazir. Much decent Carry On meets Gilbert & Sullivan business with nubile slave girls, well toned slave boys and mock hideous cruelties that never actually transpire. The chorus singing throughout enough to knock a camel over. So far so good and something towards top of the range seats at £75 a pop and a mortgage on a thimble full of nuts.

What went wrong was the setting and attendant production elements. Perhaps the highly credited Ultz (and I refrain from nervousness at the single name) was playing a deeply clever game to which I (and presumably much of the audience) were not privy. It could just be that the whole shebang with its nastily draped curtains, cardboard cut out red sets, its sometimes limited opportunity for levels and often desperately constrained acting areas was a brilliant lampoon of all that is fascinatingly awful in the village hall panto. When the production team joined the performers on stage at the end I did think this was confirmation of this and that after a call for quiet the committee, the stalwart ladies who made the tea and Frank for the loan of the field for parking would all get their due recognition. Watching our artistes navigating their way round the set and standing in dispirited lines (there were an awful lot of lines) was very depressing and the fact that there was often little to light meant that the leads were liberally follow-spotted throughout in the teeth of time, season and logic. The costumes seemed an afterthought and our sympathies went out to the dancers (wasn’t there some trouble there?) who often seemed hampered visually and spacially. Far more sadly irritation at what I saw in front of me started me thinking (I am otherwise prepared to be reasonably shallow) about the subject matter, the constant Baghdad references in a brash piece of Americana and all those things any decent chap on the town shouldn’t be troubling his pretty head with. Lovely radio, pity about the picture.

Kismet Runs at the Coliseum until 14th July for more information visit

Photos by Tristram Kenton: Top - Michael Ball as A Poet: Middle- Alfie Boe as The Caliph & Sarah Tynan as Marsinah: Bottom - Faith Prince as Lalume
frontpage hit counter