Dido, Unicorn Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

If theatre has a reputation for being inaccessible and snobbishly high cultured, opera is doubly regarded as such. Fortunately, the Unicorn and ENO teamed up to make this young people’s version of Dido and Aeneas, pared down to 60 minutes with an easy-to-understand story for secondary school students. However, the story is pitched as placing Dido’s teenaged daughter at the centre, but this version is not reconfigured enough to make her more than a passive observer of her mother’s collapse.

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Hansel & Gretel, Museum of Childhood

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I’ve never been to the V&A’s Museum of Childhood, let alone after hours. But in the expansive hall and gift shop, one corner has been set up as a playing space for Popup Opera’s Hansel & Gretel. There are shelves of toys and other souvenirs behind us, and sterile glass display cases behind the stage. Our cozy pocket in the grand room has a sinister gloom surrounding what with the autumn evening’s quickly fading light. It’s a suitable space for a story that mostly takes place in the woods overnight, when fairies and witches come out to play.

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Feature | An open letter to Music Theatre Wales

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by Paulina Brahm

A letter to Music Theatre Wales:

I’d also like to engage The British Council and additionally Birmingham Repertory and
Hackney Empire in my letter, as both Birmingham Repertory and Hackney Empire are Arts Council-funded.

I’m Paulina Brahm; an Asian-American actress, singer, and voiceover artist. I trained in
voice and acting in New York City; acting under much-missed Broadway director Gene
Frankel and voice under leading spinto soprano Dolores Mari of the New York City Opera. I am a full lyric soprano with coloratura flexibility and I now live, work and sing in the UK.

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The Magic Flute, Soho Theatre

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Late one night, a couple fights in bed. After falling asleep angry, Tamino fitfully dreams of a nightclub, a beautiful girl and a quest to save her. He is accompanied by a cheerful sidekick and is given a magic flute by the Queen of the Night, a glamorous celebrity who strokes his ego and stokes his curiosity.

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The Marriage of Kim K, Arcola Theatre

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by guest critic Maeve Campbell

In 2011 Osama Bin Laden was killed, Pope John Paul II was beautified, and Kate and Wills tied the knot. Nearly as many people watched another televised wedding that year  as a new reality-TV religion swept the globe. This is where The Marriage of Kim K, a new opera penned by Leoe Mercer and Steven Hyde, begins.

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The Magic Flute, King’s Head Theatre

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by guest critic Alistair Wilkinson

The King’s Head Theatre has been turned into a South American jungle, and we are invited to go along with the intrigued explorer Tamino, as he embarks on his journey to discover a world full of magical beings. In this world, and actually this performance too, nothing is what is expected.

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Dress Rehearsal, OSO Barnes

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A performer’s life is far from glamorous, particularly for those managing to eke out some sort of living in the business. Corporate gigs, theatre-in-education, skin work and small-scale touring is better than working in a call centre or bar, but this work is exhausting and usually demoralising. I remember similar days in my past life as an actor, particularly that panto tour to schools and social clubs in South Wales. The schools were fine; teachers kept order. But the social clubs were all loud, drunk adults, and kids hyped up on e-numbers who thought hitting the actors was the most hilarious thing ever. With two shows a day, six days a week for a month and a half, I keenly feel the anguish of opera troupe The Overtones’ pub booking in AJ Evans’ Dress Rehearsal, even though those days are long behind me. Despite kinship with the characters’ aspirations and conflicts, and fantastic singing, the clunky script, poor performances, and undeveloped characters make this a missed opportunity to showcase opera within the structure of a play.

The concept reads well on paper and it could be a great way to make opera approachable as well as demystify life as a performer: flipping between the pub floor gig, the dressing room and reserved mezzo Steph’s past, we see trouble within The Overtones cast and career goals clashing with reality, and some cracking opera numbers. There’s certainly scope for situation comedy as well as character-driven dramatic conflict. However, Evans’ script hovers in the liminal space between these styles, creating something that manages to be both unfunny and quite flat with hackneyed dialogue. Subplots and the flashbacks are neglected and left incomplete, making them feel gratuitous to the main plot thread. The first half is slow and little happens other than exposition, but after the interval, both tension and pace picks up. The final moment even has genuine emotional connection between two characters, something that is pointedly absent in the script up to this point.

The singing is excellently emotive, however. There’s enough book (albeit a poorly written one) to make Dress Rehearsal a play with music, but there’s enough music to suitably break up the simplistic dialogue. Five of the eight actors are opera singers, one is a pianist who sings and two are “just” actors. The singers are certainly good at their primary craft, but lack in their acting ability. Director Paola Cuffolo focuses more on staging than coaching truthful performances from her cast. There is some stylisation that, as a conceptual break from realism, is under used and lacks punch.

If Dress Rehearsal was a single act composed mainly of the current second half, it would be a much stronger play. As it is, it wanders aimlessly for quite some time before finding its purpose and conviction. Fortunately, the songs are welcome respite in what feels like something that well precedes a dress rehearsal.

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