Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Pagliacci - Kings Head Theatre, London

Composer: Ruggero Leoncavallo

Direction/Adaptor: Anna Gregory

Musical Director: Kelvin Lim
Reviewer: Sarah Nutland

The Kings Head Theatre in Islington is now home to the worlds first ever Fringe Opera House (I think) and Pagliacci is a great addition to their rep season.
The story is of a band of players that come to town to perform their show.  Nedda one of the clowns is pregnant and possibly not by her husband.  Her husband, Pagliacci is suspicious and then discovers the two lovers planning to run away.  When the players begin to act out their play, it soon becomes apparent that art is imitating life and Nedda’s deceit and Pagliacci’s subsequent revenge seeps in to the performance.  The play within a play ends with Pagliacci stabbing her in the stomach. 
The setting of the production is simple, which is necessary in such a small space, with a view into the players’ dressing room centre stage.  This becomes a Punch and Judy show in the second act, with the actors and puppets acting out the same story. The space was used well with every entrance and exit utilised and lots of the action taking place in the audience.  This added to the dynamics of the piece, breaking up the action and audience’s attention well; especially when I was jumped over by Pagliaccio. 
Actor Paul Featherstone portrayed the character brilliantly, really giving a sense of the sinister and sleazy side to him.  The husband and wife characters, played by Adam Kowalczyk and Emma Smith, were also planted in the audience and they really added humour to the piece. The action spilled into the bar at the interval, with ballet dancers, who would have been part of the band of players, moving through the space.  This tied the whole evening together nicely, however, it did feel a little random, as they weren’t seen at any other point in the production.
The cast demonstrated strong vocals, in particular Nedda, played by Katie Bird, who was really able to showcase her voice during the solo she sang to her baby in the first act.  The three musicians were excellent.  They produced a wonderful sound that filled the pub theatre and really made Leoncavallo’s lively and emotive composition come to life. 
Generally the performance was very engaging, with some very convincing performances, but there were some occasions when my attention drifted.  This happened less in the second act, which had much greater pace.
I’m not an Opera expert but I really enjoyed this performance!  Anna Gregory’s production worked very well, producing a witty and emotive interpretation of Leoncavallo’s opera. It was the perfect length at 1hr 25mins 
Runs in Rep until 31st March 

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