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La Traviata review at King’s Head Theatre, London – ‘passion, power and pole dancing’

Emma Walsh in La Traviata at King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Bill Knight
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The feisty opera company at the King’s Head Theatre, under the artistic direction of Adam Spreadbury-Maher, likes to drill down to the core of opera with its pocket-sized productions.

Its production of La Traviata is no exception, and director Helena Jackson and Becca Marriott (who also sings Violetta in the second cast) bring something fresh to this operatic evergreen with a new English language version.

In their telling, Violetta (Emma Walsh) is not a consumptive courtesan but instead a world-weary pole dancer, a social outcast for our age. Wearing a leotard, fishnet stocking and heels, she shimmies up and down a pole at the centre of the set (choreography by Iris Sparkles), pleasing the punters and the pocketbook of her greedy manager, Flora (a menacing Grainne Gillis).

Flora’s revenue stream is disrupted when a regular, the politician Sinclair (Victor Sgarbi), brings along his virginal son Elijah (Alex Haigh), who soon swears his devotion to a sceptical Violetta.

There’s more than a little echo of Cabaret, with Sinclair sporting 1930s-era crewcut and moustache, while cafe tables and Flora’s emcee act conjure up a smoky Kit Kat Klub atmosphere.

The romance of Violetta and Elijah (Alfredo as was) is consistent with the original libretto; other characters are discarded or compressed into Flora and Sinclair’s roles. When Sinclair asks Violetta to give up his son, it is to salvage his own political ambitions rather to further the marriage plans of his daughter. After agreeing to his demands, Violetta is doomed, though this time her end comes without any tubercular coughing.

The singing is less persuasive than the revised narrative, although Emma Walsh’s soprano provides moments of passion and power. The revised score includes the famous arias and the spirit is still extant in Marriott’s idiomatic English text with Paneretos Kyriatzidis’ musical adaptation.

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A revamped, refreshed pocket-sized version of Verdi’s opera