Sunday 21 April 2013

Ballo - OperaUpClose @ The Kings Head Theatre

OperaUpClose, the resident company at the Kings Head Theatre, have become well known for their unique interpretations of opera.  Their latest offering is no different.  Verdi's Un Ballo In Maschera, which depicts the assassination of Sweden's King Gustav III in 1792, may not be his most celebrated work but its simple love triangle plot lends itself to reinterpretation.  Here it is utterly re-imagined as (in their words) "meatballs and murder on the North Circular".

The setting is 'Ballo' (*cough* Ikea), a modern homestore in North London.  The employees wear synthetic suits, drink McDonalds coffee and aren't afraid to dabble in horoscopes or smoke "magic herbs".  It's a laughable affair with Verdi's tragedy diminished to a farcical comedy with all the melodrama of a soap opera.  Yet the cast and creatives have embraced the setting so wholeheartedly, the utter cheapness sort of works.  Right from the off the audience is welcomed to the "store" and notified that the "restaurant is serving meatballs and much more" and director Adam Spreadbury-Maher's adapted libretto frequently undermines any sense of seriousness with hilarious modernisms.

What's most striking is the attention to detail of the setting.  Performed in the round, the set is tight, focused and full of comic touches - from the oddly named flatpack furniture, to the 'Ballo' screensavers on each employees' phone.  Most of all, every item of costume is either blue or yellow, recreating that distinctive colour scheme we've all learnt to hate.

The characters are as colourful as the costumes and all wonderfully sung.  The role of Oscar is traditionally a breeches role, but with the change to a male counter-tenor, Martin Milnes brought hysterical campness (especially in leggings) and substantial vocal volume.  Olivia Barry was also highly amusing as the animated Ulrica.  As a whole the singing was not always tight, particularly at the beginning and ends of phrases, but accompanied solely by piano (Ben Woodward) the cast coped well. Each individual aria was filled with rich tones and delicious lyricism - an impressive feat for such a young cast.

Ballo is certainly an irreverent take on Verdi's opera and something of an acquired taste.  Yet, with its tongue firmly in cheek, it's a highly entertaining romp.


Watch: Ballo is performed at the Kings Head Theatre until the 25th May.