Die Fledermaus was 19th-century ‘Waltz King’ Johann Strauss’ biggest hit operetta, its longevity ensured by bubbliness and an abundance of hummable tunes. But some longueurs and stilted dialogue – especially in translation – can be problematic.
Joanna Turner’s new version, part of the Arcola’s Grimeborn festival, boils the two-hour work down to 50 minutes, retaining the best music and essence of the plot, while bringing it bang up to date.
After a large night out (glimpsed during an abridged overture in increasingly drunken selfies), Eisenstein posts embarrassing pics of his best bud Falke in a cheap Batman costume (Fledermaus is German for ‘bat’) on YouTube. Falke’s revenge involves exposing his friend’s duplicitous partying to his wife Rosalinde – and vice versa.
Turner’s slick adaptation, set-less apart from some wooden boxes, is propelled by natural colloquialisms – “babe”, “jerk”, “scumbag” – and an enthusiastic and convincing cast.
The women – Abigail Kelly’s workshy nanny Adele and Claire Wild’s long-suffering but hypocritical Rosalinde – are vocally classier, but David Horton’s Eisenstein and James McOran-Campbell’s Falke also contribute to the show’s success.
The ensemble is tight and pace lively, with an instrumental trio led by music director Leo Geyer.
It’s great fun, and Turner’s updating gives a ring of truth to the potentially farcical story. So much so that the happy ending is harder than usual to swallow – would Rosalinde, though herself hardly blameless, really forgive the party-addicted husband who orders her to stay home with the kids?
The question jars with the show’s lighthearted frothiness – but ultimately not enough to spoil this small but perfectly formed production, a model for the egalitarian Grimeborn ethos.