La Boheme review at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘clever staging’

The cast of La Boheme at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh The cast of La Boheme at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
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Love is thoroughly aired in Alex Olle’s Italian-set La Boheme for Teatro Regio.

It is all a bit skeletal to start with, the singing between the four friends somehow echoing Alfons Flores clever but spare design of the towering frames of the crowded tenements of this Latin Quarter.

Once Francesca Sassu’s gloriously-voiced Mimi arrives to beg a light from Ivan Ayon Rivas’ prosaic Rodolfo, the whole production lights up, even as the lighting drops. Sassu makes a consistently convincing Mimi, torn in her affections and fading with a rare and poignant dignity.

In a production which always works but does not always shine, Olle provides plenty of details around the stage. Mimi’s stairwell encounter with Benoit pegs him as a bona-fide sleaze ball, for example. While the whole of Act II is a triumph of storytelling, first in an illicit flea-market and then as Kelebogile Besong’s strutting Musetta dominates the ultra-trendy Caffe Momus, seen side-on, with its androgynous waiting staff.

The problem is that there is too much detail for this size of stage and some of the crucial elements which define Act III – set in a red-light district – are not visible from much of the Festival Theatre’s auditorium.

It’s a production which wears its 21st century setting reasonably lightly, with Rodolfo’s pen a malfunctioning laptop and the “milkmaids” waiting to get past the guards in Act III a group of sex workers. But by being this exact, the discrepancy between modern medicine and Mimi’s illness simply jars.

Triumphant love scenes and clever staging enhance a production that only shines on occasion