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La Boheme review at Trafalgar Studios, London – ‘dramatic immediacy’

Thomas Isherwood and Honey Rouhani in La Boheme at Trafalgar Studios, London. Photo: Scott Rylander Thomas Isherwood and Honey Rouhani in La Boheme at Trafalgar Studios, London. Photo: Scott Rylander
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This is the first of two King’s Head Theatre shows transferring to the West End, the company now having left its home base at King’s Head and awaiting completion of its new, purpose-built theatre on Islington Square.

Puccini’s Parisian-garret setting is now a Dalston flat and the original quartet of bohemians is slashed to two – no room for Colline and Schaunard. But the most striking updating is the English adaptation by director Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Becca Marriott (who also sings the heroine Mimi). Liberally sprinkled with insults and expletives, it renders the scenario believable in itself, even if it occasionally grates in the context of the music. Mimi herself, rather than a consumptive, is a user. Needless to say, everyone is constantly on their phones.

In this bijou performing space the experience is visceral, with plenty of movement into the audience – from an empowered Musetta (sung by Honey Rouhani) and from Mimi who, destitute by the second half, asks audience members for spare change or the whereabouts of her lover. The passion between her and Ralph (Rodolfo in Puccini’s original) is unusually believable without being overly self-conscious. Unfortunately, the space is too small to contain the sound of these keen operas singers.

Roger Paterson is a metrosexual Ralph whose profound affection for (as well as attraction to) Mimi is keenly expressed. The Marcello character (here Mark) is sung by an ample-toned Thomas Isherwood, who brings wry humour to the buddy banter. Marriott sings Mimi with dramatic weight, even if she is excessively weak-kneed in her first encounter with Ralph. A single pianist and cellist gamely convey the essentials of Puccini’s score

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Intimacy and dramatic immediacy in an updated version of Puccini