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The Magic Flute review at Soho Theatre, London – ‘an infectious sense of fun’

Abigail Kelly in Opera UpClose's The Magic Flute. Photo: Christopher Tribble Abigail Kelly in Opera UpClose's The Magic Flute. Photo: Christopher Tribble
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With its trippy dream-world setting, Mozart’s The Magic Flute is perfect fodder for inventive reimaginings, especially as the racism, masonic mysticism and unenlightened attitude towards women in Emanuel Schickenader’s libretto make a recreation of the original difficult today.

Glyn Maxwell’s English adaptation, set around a modern-day nightclub with drunken hen-night antics, liaisons and recriminations, offers an entertaining backdrop, even if the storyline is far from clear.

What ensures this is a satisfying dramatic experience, though, is the quality of the singing and acting from OperaUpClose, now enjoying the comparative spaciousness of Soho Theatre after years at Islington’s King’s Head. The six-strong young cast has an infectious sense of fun.

Wisely, spoken dialogue is entirely omitted and Valentina Ceschi’s production zips along. Mozart’s sublime score is essentially intact and treated with due respect.

The show is double-cast; here, Peter Kirk’s Tamino has boyish charm, Tom Stoddart is a likeable party-geezer Papageno (“I’m cool and I’m great company / I’m sure you all know guys like me”) whose ringtone replaces the traditional pan-pipes. Luci Briginshaw’s Queen of the Night has all the high notes, and Abigail Kelly’s Pamina is more feisty than most.

But as impressive as the cast is, star of the show is guitarist Alex Menaker, standout of the tight four-piece band. His virtuosic dexterity, especially in the overture and Queen of the Night’s showcase aria, is thrilling. Who’d have thought it would sound so natural to hear Mozart played brilliantly on electric fuzz-guitar? It’s utterly joyous, worth going to see this production for alone.

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Despite some hazy storytelling this modern update by Opera UpClose is great fun