La Traviata – King’s Head Theatre, London

Writer: Becca Marriott

Director: Helena Jackson

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

There’s certainly some “reimagining” done here, but not much of it is “radical”. Musically enjoyable, the new draft of the storyline and libretto from Becca Marriott (also one of the alternating singers for Violetta) seeks to modernise the plot, bringing in contemporary references and language. Engaging and sharp in places, it, unfortunately, loses some of the key elements that give Violetta’s story its weight. A really intelligent and engaging ending and some excellent performances are not quite enough to save the night.

In this version we see Flora as the owner of a discrete and selective gentleman’s club, with Violetta as the star attraction. Politician George Sinclair arrives in with Elijah on a jolly as part of a graduation day celebration. When the two youngsters fall in love and move in together, neither Flora (who turns out to be their landlady) nor Sinclair are happy – prompting the politician to appeal to Violetta’s good side to prevent a scandal. As with all other versions, this ends in tragedy and ruin for all concerned. Marriott has changed the male names (George Singlair and Elijah instead of Giorgio Germont and Alfredo) but kept the female names intact which is a little unbalancing.

Following the broad contours of the original storyline, the important changes in Violetta are seen. She evolves from a brassy stripper, immune to love, through to a committed partner and then a dying wretch. Where it comes unstuck is in the motivational forces around her and the elements that drive the plot. She is convinced to leave Elijah by his father who is scared of scandal – it doesn’t seem anywhere near as strong a motivation as the traditional “sister cannot marry” reason the father gives and feels a little hollow. With a sudden death at the end, we also miss the powerful thread of ill health throughout which greatly adds to Violetta’s character and builds that context of a world of inequality.

There are some smart character elements in fairness – Elijah (who takes the role generally known as Germont) is exposed as the fundamentally weak man he is, something which doesn’t always come through in other productions. Flora’s seen as much more clearly manipulative and controlling of Violetta as well.

There’s an alternating cast on different production dates, so we can only comment on those performing on the night The Reviews Hub attended. As Violetta, Emma Walsh is a charismatic focal point for the production harnessing beautiful, strong singing in the upper ranges of her voice, and well able to convey the emotion that packs the tragic last scene. Alex Haigh as Elijah has a strong voice, and brings a smart portrayal of this objectionable character.

There should always be room for the retelling of famous stories. Injecting contemporary notes and references, highlighting different character elements that may have been unexamined in previous productions – all essential in making the most of a rich artistic past. But here we see only partial success, bringing interesting character perspectives but losing the plot points that highlighted the best of the original writing. It’s genuinely entertaining, just not as much as it should or could be.

Runs until 27 October 2018 | Image: Bill Knight

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The Reviews Hub Score

A Partial Success

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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One Comment

  1. i saw a preview of the other cast – and thought the whole show was amazing. The words were so clear, the action amazing, the pole dancing , graceful and beautifully done. The cast were amazing, and the singing wonderful. If we look at past Traviata stories surely we turn to the ballet Marguerite and Armand- the actual book- the names of the characters therefor are always being changed- this is the opera more Moulin rouge than the usual Traviata- wonderfully done- and every good opera deserves an update now and again to encourage the young into the theatre. We need to keep the arts alive. I found this production very very exciting and inspiring. The tragic last act is amazing,

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