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Carmen review at King’s Head Theatre, London – ‘punchy new version of Bizet’s tragedy’

Roger Paterson and Ellie Edmonds in Carmen at King's Head Theatre, London. Photo: Nick Rutter
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This punchy new English version of Bizet’s opera, by Mary Franklin and Ashley Pearson, focuses on the seedy, violent aspects of the passionate love triangle.

Carmen is an immigrant in a series of zero-hours jobs; as a cleaner she has an affair with an embittered nurse, José and he saves her from being arrested for stealing drugs from the hospital. While waitressing in the urban equivalent of Lilas Pastia’s bar, Carmen is chatted up by celebrity footballer Escamillio.

Fed up with sleeping in an old car with the idle José – a grungy equivalent of the gypsy life – Carmen texts Escamillio: he arrives and battle is declared between the two men. While Escamillio is celebrating his winning goal, José stabs Carmen to death for rejecting him.

This 21st-century fable makes perfect sense in these claustrophobic confines. The stage is bare except for a mop and bucket, a bistro table and a pair of old car seats. The changing backdrops are drawn like a curtain by the singers and the two pianists.

As Carmen, Ellie Edmonds is a warm and communicative singer. She’s also a fearless actor who dances like a dervish and signals emotions from humour to disgust with her minxy grin and flashing eyes. Tenor Roger Paterson throws his energy into the role of José, but could do with more subtlety and less volume.

Dan D’Souza is a charismatic Escamillio, (anyone would fall for that beguiling baritone), a cocky football star but also – a nice touch from the female librettists – a feminist who appreciates that Carmen cannot be ‘owned’ by anyone.

Music director Juliane Gallant creates a vibrant orchestral palette from a honky-tonk piano, with help from sound designer David Eaton. As always in the King’s Head Theatre, it’s a full-on sound experience, with plenty to enjoy.

 

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Verdict
Punchy new version of Bizet’s Spanish tragedy transferred to zero-hours Britain, where love is poisoned by poverty
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