Thursday, 11 May 2017

A Magic Mystic Contrivance: The Magic Flute at the King's Head Theatre

The Magic Flute, Sarah Champion, Julian Debreuil, Jennifer Begley and Polly Leech (Photo Bill Night)
The Magic Flute, Sarah Champion, Julian Debreuil, Jennifer Begley and Polly Leech (Photo Bill Night)
Mozart The Magic Flute; Robin Bailey, Emily Jane Thomas, Matthew Kellett, Hanna Sawle, Julian Debreuil, dir: John Savournin, md: David Eaton; Charles Court Opera and King's Head Theatre
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on May 9 2017
Star rating: 4.0

An imaginative new production of Mozart's perennial favourite enchants and charms

The Magic Flute, Robin Balley as Tamino (Photo Bill Night)
Robin Balley as Tamino (Photo Bill Night)
The Magic Flute was the first opera I saw as a wide-eyed teenager. Like many others before me I was completely captivated by the story of good and evil and the triumph of love and wisdom. 

Thirty odd years later it’s spell was cast again in this mystical production at the King’s Head Theatre on Tuesday 9 May 2017, in a new co-production with Charles Court Opera. John Savournin directed, with designs by Simon Bejer and David Eaton as musical director, plus Robin Bailey as Tamino, Emily-Jane Thomas as Pamina, Matthew Kellett as Papageno, Hannah Sawle as the Queen of the Night and Julian Debreuil as Sarastro.

John Savournin and David Eaton’s new English version emphasises enlightenment and the power of knowledge including some nods towards our current political predicaments and the new scourge of fake news - “learn to think critically”. This endlessly witty and inventive production absolutely charmed my pants off.

The Magic Flute, Emily-Jane Thomas as Pamina (Photo Bill Night)
Emily-Jane Thomas as Pamina (Photo Bill Night)
The adventure began as soon as we entered. Simon Bejer’s twilight world, a rain forest and the walls of a great civilisation, enclosed us. Dense tangled Lianas wound around the grove and a mottled light danced through the canopy to the trill accompaniment of insects.

We discover our intrepid hero Tamino (Robin Bailey), a plucky explorer type, in a bit of a bind. Viciously attacked by a vine he is rescued just in the nick of time. Spotters’ guide in hand he stumbles into the path of Papageno (Matthew Kellett) who is happy to take credit for our champions rescue and who wouldn’t believe such a charming and seductively honey toned baritone?

Robin Bailey, our “firm buttocked” hero, sang ardently but, favouring his lower register, he pushed a little at the top. Hannah Sawle’s arch Queen of the Night was a concerned mother and sometime witch, strangling birds and persecuting voodoo dolls whilst delivering assured and passionate coloratura.

The Magic Flute, Matthew Kellett as Papageno and Jennifer Begley as Papagena (Photo Bill Night)
Matthew Kellett as Papageno & Jennifer Begley as Papagena
(Photo Bill Night)
Julian Debreuil (Sarastro) in a fetching mohican had an imposing voice and presence as he should but was occasionally stentorian in such a confined space; and whilst Emily Jane Thomas’ (Pamina) plangent tone touched our hearts, her bête noire ,Monostatos (Matt Ward), was the sort of bally bounder your mother warned you about - all hands and unctuousness.

Papagena and the Ladies, Jennifer Begley, Sarah Champion and Polly Leach, all worked their socks off too. This was a true ensemble performance, no showboating here.

Finally magic and superstition are rejected, even the flute is set aside in this humanist tale -“logic prevails, hypocrisy fails, trust in knowledge”. It’s a pity that real life isn’t this simple, but for two hours it felt as if it was. Enchanting.

Reviewed by Anthony Evans

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