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R’Otello: The Rugby Opera review at Bridewell Theatre – ‘muddled operatic mash-up’

Sani Muliaumaseali'i and the company of R'Otello: The Rugby Opera at the Bridewell Theatre, London
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Opera and sport both involve feats of technical prowess, dramatic climaxes and intense fervour among their fans.

R’Otello, presented by London-based Samoan company GAFA Arts Collective and written and directed by Sani Muliaumaseali’i (who also plays Otello), takes the premise that Samoa, led by captain Otello, has made the Rugby World Cup final. Jealousies inevitably ensue. Meanwhile, nurse Carmen dreams of being a singer, becoming the protégée of drag diva Floria Tosca and lover of injured rugby player D’Jai.

Set in a community where the worst thing that a man can be called is effeminate (invariably expressed in cruder terms), the two storylines barely intersect and it would have made more sense to have focused on Otello alone. Bitty scenes with clumsy dialogue are interspersed with arias, and the production as a whole is overlong and structurally lopsided, with almost two hours before the interval.

The singers are uniformly talented. The gorgeous soprano voice of Aivale Cole (Desdemona) is the standout, and Rodney Earl Clarke is a striking Iago. They are supported by a mixed professional and amateur chorus, who represent the passivity of onlookers by being glued to their phones at crucial moments.

Rather than restoring agency to Desdemona and Carmen, this show silences them further by making them onlookers in a male tragedy that’s too overstuffed to allow room for reflection.

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Verdict
Muddled operatic mash-up that sorely needs a stronger directorial hand
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