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Madam Butterfly review at King’s Head Theatre, London – ‘a compact production’

Matt Kimble and Becca Marriot in Madam Butterfly at the King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Christopher Tribble
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When an opera is scaled down from a huge cast on a grand stage to a tiny cast in an intimate theatre space above a pub, how much of the original spirit can survive? That’s a fair question to ask about the King’s Head Theatre very compact production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, in a new English version by Amanda Holden.

Cutting out subplots pares away an hour of running time and gives this Butterfly an immediacy and dynamism underscored by Holden’s clear-eyed and supple English libretto. However, director Paul Higgins’ decision to relocate this tragic tale to a modern Japanese ‘Maid Cafe’, where young women in manga comics costumes cater to male erotic fantasies, is less surefooted. Madam Butterfly could arguably find herself isolated for years in a house in the opera’s original setting (1904 Nagasaki), but surely not an iPhone age when she would have obsessively tracked down the two-timing Pinkerton via Facebook.

Praise is nonetheless due to the manga atmosphere created by the set (Luke W Robson), lighting (Nic Farman) and costumes (Emily May Sions) even if it is nearly irrelevant by the final two acts when Becca Marriott  gives a spine-tingling performance as the abandoned Butterfly. She has sympathetic support from Sarah Denbee as the loyal Suzuki and Sam Pantcheff as the guilt-ridden Sharpless; Matthew Kimble (Pinkerton) looks part of the confident American even if his vocal prowess doesn’t quite match. The night belongs to Marriott and one hopes she’ll be able unleash that power some day on a larger stage.

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A compact production that mostly manages to pin down Butterfly