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A Hand of Bridge/Sands of Time/Le 66 review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘three operas of chance’

The cast of A Hand of Bridge at Arcola Theatre, London

This fast-paced, hour-long triple bill at the Grimeborn Festival brings together three pieces linked by the theme of chance.

Barber’s nine-minute A Hand of Bridge focuses on two couples gathered for their regular bridge night. Each player’s thoughts drift to their own concerns: Sally wants a peacock-feathered hat; her husband, Bill, wants his mistress; Geraldine reflects on loneliness; and her husband, David, reflects on his boss’ pay packet. As Geraldine, Ellie Popham’s lament on loneliness is especially poignant and vocally sophisticated.

The most distinguished feature of Peter Reynolds’ two-hander, Sands of Time, is that, at three minutes and 34 seconds, it holds the Guinness World Record for the shortest opera.

Stan and Flo argue over breakfast – an egg having been put on to boil at the start – and are interrupted by visitors who announce that the couple have won on the football pools. Though Sophie Horrocks and Alex Hall give snappy performances, replacing Reynolds’ piece with Morecambe and Wise’s Breakfast Sketch would have been funnier and more dramatic. The music would have been better too.

The title of Offenbach’s Le 66 refers to a winning lottery that down-at-heel Frantz has bought. It is only after returning from a spending spree that his fortunes are turned on their head: his ticket is actually 99. Horrocks and Hall (as the itinerant-singer cousins Grittly and Frantz) are joined by Joao Valido Vaz for a witty revival of a rarity.

Horrocks and Hall work seamlessly together, she wringing her face for every comic effect, he amping up the Eurotrash-y camp. Offenbach’s music is often pedestrian, but the cast’s optimism shines through.

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Four singers and one piano create an antidote to Wagnerian extravagance