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La Boheme review at King’s Head Theatre, London – ‘dramatically taut’

“A production of La Boheme in a pub theatre in English with a piano is closer to Puccini’s masterpiece than any starry concert performance could possibly be”, wrote veteran director Graham Vick recently in The Stage [1]. And this new version, at Islington’s King’s Head, accompanied by piano plus cello, feels at least as authentic as many big opera house productions too.

“Radically new” takes on Puccini’s 19th century tale of love, laughter and tragedy among impoverished Parisian artists have often been promised before, and this latest update by King’s Head artistic director Adam Spreadbury-Maher, relocated to contemporary East London, is not far removed from OperaUpClose’s version, seen at this venue just last year. But in paring down the cast even further – there is no space for fellow bohemians Colline and Schaunard, let alone hordes of revellers – the production becomes an intense focus on the two central couples.

There is plenty of fun too – an important ingredient of the original – at least in the first half. The second works fine without light relief. Those on the front row risk starring as a surrogate Alcindoro with Musetta on their lap.

Success is due in large part to a slick new English libretto by Spreadbury-Maher and Becca Marriot (who also plays Mimi in the double-cast performances), convincingly colloquial if too self-consciously sweary. Their Mimi is a heroine addict – plausible and compelling, though it fundamentally changes the nature of Puccini’s tuberculosis victim.

Stephanie Edward’s Mimi and Tom Isherwood’s Marcello (Mark) impressed vocally. They and Roberto Abate’s Rodolfo (Ralph) and Caroline Kennedy’s Musetta embody their roles with equal conviction.

Verdict
Pared-down Puccini that’s as dramatically taut as it is musically satisfying

Production Information

Production
La Boheme
Venue
King's Head Theatre
City
London
Starts
August 31, 2016
Ends
October 8, 2016
Press night
September 13, 2016
Librettist
Adam Spreadbury-Maher, Becca Marriott
Composer
Giacomo Puccini
Director
Adam Spreadbury-Maher
Musical director
Panaretos Kyriatzidis
Set
Becky-Dee Trevenen
Lighting
Nic Farman
Stage manager
Christine Collins
Cast includes
Stephanie Edwards, Roberto Abate, Tom Isherwood, Caroline Kennedy
Producer
King’s Head Theatre
Running time
1hr 45mins