Friday, 20 November 2009

The Adventures of Mr Brouček - Theatre Royal, Newcastle

The Adventures of Mr Brouček
Composer: Leoš Janáček
Conductor: Martin André
Director: John Fulljames
Reviewer: Ian Cain

If your taste in entertainment veers toward the zany, bizarre, surreal or downright nutty, then this is probably the opera for you. Be prepared to suspend your disbelief as you are introduced to Mr Matěj Brouček, a boring and opinionated property landlord and regular drinker at The Vikárka Inn.

The opera is created from two novels; ‘The Excursion of Mr Brouček to the 15th Century’ and ‘The Excursion of Mr Brouček to the Moon.’Brouček is a figure of ridicule at the Inn and his musings are scoffed at and berated by the student clientele - so much so that each night he drowns his sorrows in beer. After an argument about the existence of life on the moon, Brouček falls over and dreams of his theory.

At this point, we are transported to a futuristic society populated by a civilisation that does not eat, but finds nourishment from the scent of flowers. Brouček’s coarse view of women, his ‘cannibalism’ (resulting from a penchant for sausages) and constant reference to his nose offends the inhabitants and he is forced to flee the Moon – though not before we are treated to a musical scene that could easily have been mistaken for a pastiche of a Eurovision Song Contest entry routine!

The following evening, after debating the existence of underground tunnels in Prague, Brouček falls over in the cellar of The Vikárka and his alcohol-induced fantasy sees him transported back to 1420 and into the midst of a terrifying Czech battle. Here, he fares no better than he did on the Moon and ends up being sentenced to death for cowardice.

The humour is almost Monty Python-esque and Brouček is a kind of cross between an operatic Mr Bean and a drunken ‘Doctor Who’, travelling back and forth in time through beer-induced dreams. It’s as brilliant as it is barmy.John Graham-Hall is magnificent as Mr Brouček and, despite the fact that the character is an anti-hero, you do find yourself rooting for the nit-wit. He is supported by a fantastic cast and several are particularly worthy of a mention.

Anne Sophie Duprels, as Málinka had my fellow critics and I convinced that her constant limp was a quirk of the character – in actual fact she had sustained a nasty sprain of the ankle during a fall down a flight of stairs on the Paris Metro system! A trouper, indeed, she gave a vibrant and hugely enjoyable performance despite, undoubtedly, being in a state of considerable discomfort.

Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, as Mazal, Donald Maxwell, as Wϋrfl, Frances McCafferty, as the Housekeeper, and Jonathan Best, as the Sacristan, all added considerably to the fun and eccentricity of the piece.A true ensemble piece with a large cast and colourful characters, this major production – which is co-produced by Opera North and Scottish Opera – is a wholly enjoyable, if slightly bonkers, experience.

Photos: Alastair Muir
Reviewed at Theatre Royal, Newcastle upon Tyne on Thursday 19th November 2009.
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