Monday, 8 January 2018

One of the most compelling and poignant ends to a Boheme I have witnessed

Puccini: La Boheme -Honey Rouhani, Matthew Palmer, Matthew Kimble, Lizzie Holmes - Trafalgar Studios (Photo Scott Rylander)
Puccini: La Boheme - Honey Rouhani, Matthew Palmer, Matthew Kimble, Lizzie Holmes - Trafalgar Studios
(Photo Scott Rylander)
Puccini La Boheme; Lizzie Holmes, Honey Rouhani, Matthew Kimble, Matthew Palmer, Elspeth Wilkes, William Rudge; King's Head Theatre at Trafalgar Studior
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Jan 6 2018 Star rating: 4.0
Small scale but still packing a punch, the King's Head Theatre's pared down production of La Boheme

Puccini: La Boheme - Matthew Palmer - Trafalgar Studios (Photo Scott Rylander)
Matthew Palmer
(Photo Scott Rylander)
One of the real pleasures of the past year had been the opportunity to see so many strikingly imaginative small-scale opera productions. The King’s Head Theatre continues to challenge and delight in the West End revival of their 2016 production of La Boheme at the Trafalgar Studios.

In this pared-down production Colline and Schaunard are given the heave-ho focussing instead on the two central couples. Double cast, at this performance Lizzie Holmes sang Mimi, Honey Rouhani was Musetta with Matthew Kimble as “Rafe” (Rodolpho) and Matthew Palmer playing Mark (Marcello). Elspeth Wilkes and William Rudge accompanied on piano and cello.

Modern adaptions of classic repertoire can often sound crass or clumsy but La Boheme’s timeless tale of ordinary people doing ordinary things is ripe for some slick re-writing. Relocated to Dalston, La Boheme’s naturalism, humour and conversational style is exploited to the full in Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s occasionally self-consciously sweary updating.

The first half is unabashed riotous fun. Ralph and Mark are huddled over their digital devices in their Dalston flat “My balls are frozen” Ralph cries, their laddish charm and snappy banter a delight, bringing the house down with “ignore him he voted leave”. Honey Rouhani’s sparkly eyed and mischievous Musetta does a fantastic turn at playing the audience, shaming an unsuspecting punter into picking up the tab at the Cat and Mutton pub. This paean to friendship barely hints at how things will play out. From her first entrance Lizzie Holmes’ Mimi is enchanting, her broad infectious smile and creamy soprano hiding the significance of an innocuous request for a lighter making the final revelation all the more shocking.


By the second half a wretched Mimi begs the audience for help and directions to the Café de Paris. Her meeting with Mark is musically and dramatically intense. Even when Ralph lets slip that “she’s using” the penny still didn’t completely drop. Surely he’s mistaken I thought. And friends doing what friends do to help one of their own, events are set in motion for the tragic denouement. When I heard those final icy chords it was one of the most compelling and poignant ends to a Boheme I have witnessed.

Puccini: La Boheme - Matthew Kimble, Lizzie Holmes - Trafalgar Studios (Photo Scott Rylander)
Puccini: La Boheme - Matthew Kimble, Lizzie Holmes - Trafalgar Studios (Photo Scott Rylander)
On the death scene Puccini wrote, ‘I had to get up and standing in the middle of the study alone in the silence of the night I began to weep like a child. It was as though I had seen my own child die.’ For anyone who doubts that such a modest production can’t pack a heavy-weight punch think again.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Puccini: La Boheme
Trafalgar Studios
King’s Head Theatre West End
Saturday 6 January 2018
Mimi : Lizzie Holmes
Ralph : Matthew Kimble
Mark : Matthew Palmer
Musetta : Honey Rouhani
Director : Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Musical Director : Panaretos Kyriatzidis
Piano : Elspeth Wilkes, Cello : William Rudge
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