Composer: Gaetano Donizetti
Writers: Chris Harris and David Eaton
Director: Hannah Noone
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Updated in many ways, the new version from Chris Harris and David Eaton sets out to prove sincerity still triumphs, even in (fairly) contemporary times. It’s quirky, interesting, and, under direction from Hannah Noone, a lot of fun.
Transported from Italian fields to Wales’ Barry Island in the 1980’s, Adina becomes a cafe owner rather than a rich semi-aristo, Nemorino is transformed into the frequent cafe customer Nicky (still a little unclear what he does) who still loves her with hope and a lack of confidence, Dr. Dulcamara is still a travelling salesman hawking potions and hope to fools and Belcore becomes Brandon, a captain in the British Navy who knew Adina from youth, proposing to her just as he’s about to get sent to fight in the Falklands.
The co-librettists have rewritten a fair chunk of the story in the update, making it a little more relatable, but keeping the strong elements from the original. From a reading of Tristan und Isolde in the fields, we get a Teen magazine horoscope at the cafe counter speaking of love. Dulcamara still sells all sorts of bottles and tonics – the most visible aspect being the amount of hair oil he has splashed on his head, capping off a fantastically spivvy character. The language is clearer – grand gestures and mythical love are replaced by a much more recognisable set of plainly spoken ideas about loss and desire – this is recognisable, happily quotidian stuff. The (well-executed) Voglio Dire duet between Nicky and Dulcamara uses this new language, for example, to cut through some niceties – “the customer’s a twat”.
The cast are strong – Matthew Kellett (as the Dr.) and David Powton (as Nicky) dominating, but with a gorgeous and nuanced musical performance from Alys Roberts as Alina. David Eaton’s piano, undeniably a fine accompaniment to this new version, was much too loud for the King’s Head space – overwhelming some of the fine points in the singing and making ensemble moments (such as the starts of both acts) almost cacophonous.
The small cast give a tight show, whipping along but maintaining the key themes of substance over style when it comes to love, steadfastness and character. The update to Barry is a little kitschy, but all in good fun. It doesn’t feel like there’s greater meaning in this locale change beyond injecting some reasons for a language update – perhaps they’re missing a trick here or it just doesn’t come through strongly enough. Either way, it’s not that important. With an accessible, fun, well performed new version of a classic, there’s more than enough to make up for it.
Runs until 26 October 2019 | Image: Bill Knight