A Hand Of Bridge/The Sands of Time/Le 66 – Arcola, London

Writer: Samuel Barber, Peter Reynolds and Jacques Offenbach

Director: Paula Chitty

Reviewer: Miriam Sallon

Owing to the fact that three operettas are performed within an hour, it seems unfair to ask that any of them pack a real punch- there just isn’t time. That being said, there is plenty of time for light entertainment and a little comedy. And with only a piano (Laurie O’Brien) to accompany, the focus is almost entirely on the singers themselves.

Samuel Barber’sA Hand Of Bridge tells of two couples playing a lacklustre game of Bridge as each of them in turn sings an arietta expressing their innermost thoughts. Sally (Sophie Horrocks) yearns for a peacock hat whilst her husband Bill (Joao Valido Vaz) lusts after his lover Cymbaline; David (Alex Hall) fantasizes about greater wealth and sexual liberation whilst his wife Geraldine (Ellie Popham) contemplates all of those who should but don’t love her (her husband included) and concludes in lamenting her distant relationship with her dying mother. Popham’s controlled soprano is surprisingly heart-breaking considering we have known her character all of two minutes.

Given that the stage is so small, director and designer Paula Chitty has cleverly incorporated costume and scenery changes in to the script. At the beginning of the next operetta, for example, Horrocks, playing house wife Flo, picks up the discarded cards scattered all over the floor as part of her house work. Hall’s costume change consists of him shedding his shirt and jacket to reveal an undervest. No need for the stage to remain empty for a moment, or for a short pause in the music; they simply saunter in to the next story.

Peter Reynold’s The Sands of Time won the plaudit of shortest opera on earth in the 1993 Guinness Book of Records. At only three minutes long, it lasts just as long as it takes Flo to boil an egg for her husband Stan (Hall). The couple find themselves in a heated domestic dispute over breakfast when the doorbell rings and they discover they have won a large sum of money and are conciliated. At three minutes, it would be hard to make any more of an impact, but on the other hand, it’s short enough that its ridiculousness is contained and the audience is entertained.

For the final operetta, Jacques Offenback’s Le 66, Horrocks rips off her velcroed gingham dress to reveal a garish red and green lederhosen-style outfit, and Valido Vaz, peeling off his prior costume, follows suit. Two cousins heading for Strasbourg to visit Grittly’s (Horrocks) ailing sister, they come across a wily salesman (Hall) who convinces them that Franz (Valido Vaz) has won the lottery, causing the cousins to reveal their true nature. The plot is completely ridiculous, which would be fine if it were as brief as the last, but Le 66 takes up the majority of the hour. There are a few moments of amusement, but it’s gentle comedy at best. Nevertheless, the cast’s talents are clear, each showing their vocal prowess, and giving as much as is possible from this very silly storyline.

Assuming Grimeborn is an attempt to make opera more accessible and bring in a younger crowd, they might have chosen more exciting material, on this occasion at least. The cast themselves show great talent in both their acting and singing; it only seems a shame they weren’t given more to work with.

Runs until 28 August 2019. | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Silly, but brief

The Reviews Hub

The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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