Grimeborn: Die Fledermaus – Arcola Theatre, London

Music: Johann Strauss II, adapted by Leo Geyer

Libretto: Joanna Turner

Director: Joanna Turner

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Even the most ardent operagoer would admit that, while the genre has a reputation for productions’ long-running times, they aren’t exactly packed with plotting. Hence Baseless Fabric Theatre’s modern-day adaptation of Strauss’ comic operetta Die Fledermaus, playing for two nights as part of the Arcola Theatre’s annual Grimeborn season, manages to squeeze all the important parts of the original’s story into a trim 50 minutes.

Director Joanna Turner adapts the original libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genée into a modern world of smartphones and social media. In this world, Falke and Eisenstein are old mates who go out drinking together and play pranks upon one another. Their latest, summarised in a slideshow of photos as the three-piece band plays the overture, saw Falke snapped in a Batman suit (slyly referencing the English translation of the operetta’s title), while Eisenstein got arrested and is about to start his community service.

As James McOran-Campbell’s Falke plans revenge on David Horton’s Eisenstein, he enlists the assistance of Adele (Abigail Kelly), nanny to Eisenstein and his wife Rosalinde’s twins. Kelly’s coloratura soprano really helps set the scene in the operetta’s opening moments, as Adele’s penchant for singing her laughter is established from the off.

While the setup establishes the framing for the modern-day setting well, it is the party itself where the action kicks off. Claire Wild’s Rosalinde impresses here, posing as an aloof, sunglasses-wearing supermodel who secures a mobile phone as proof of her husband’s deception (Eisenstein attending the party, posing as a celebrity footballer, rather than attending his community service).

While keeping the cast down to four people makes the sense of a swinging party require rather more imagination on the part of the audience than a full-scale operetta would need, it does allow the elements of farce, which the source material inherited from the play on which it is based, to shine through. Turner’s updated libretto walks the line between fidelity to the original and working in a contemporary setting well.

If there is any aspect where the shortened running time suffers, it is the ending, where the happy-ever-after resolution gets wrapped up even more quickly (and just as unsatisfyingly) as the original. But even so, the result is a highly satisfying distillation of everything that makes Die Fledermausone of the operetta canon’s most popular works.

Runs until 7 August 2019 | Image: Contributed

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