views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Le Docteur Miracle
Drink, Shop & Do
10th March 2014


Photography © Jenny Dale

Although theatre is becoming more and more populist, the acid test as to whether someone is a true culture vulture has up until now remained whether they go to the opera. Seeking to break down traditional barriers, Pop-up Opera have taken Georges Bizet's opérette Le Docteur Miracle and turned it into something that is genuinely accessible. Even if you'd rather stick pins in your eyes than stroll into the Royal Opera House, trust me, you really should give Pop-up Opera a whirl.

In this latest production, Silvio (Robert Lomax) meets Laurette (Aurélia Jonvaux), falls in love and is immediately blocked by her disapproving father (Benjamin Seifert), who happens to be the mayor, so quite an influential person. The mayor's new wife, Véronique (Sarah Champion) is more sympathetic to the young lovers' cause but she cannot persuade her husband to give Laurette's new man a chance.

As befitting any good piece of drama, there's a case of hidden identity, with Silvio pretending to be an omelette chef called Pasquin, in order to infiltrate the mayor's household. If that sounds a bit confusing, don't worry. Director Darren Royston projects an English narrative onto the back wall to help the audience follow the story and to modernise the work. The slides initially have a 20s silent movie feel to them, but there is no mention of telegrams exchanged - as would fit the time - rather texts and WhatsApp messages.

The four performers hit every note beautifully, and whilst some of the modern pop culture references land better than others, there's an obvious attempt to keep this inclusive, which we wholeheartedly applaud. Let's face it, opera is scary to the uninitiated - no matter what language, sometimes only dogs can decipher the high-pitched words of a soprano or mezzo-soprano.

Photography © Jenny Dale

Drink, Shop & Do is an utterly charming venue, but it is one without raked seating, and with relatively short rows extending quite far back. Royston deals with this by ensuring that the slides are projected high up, giving everyone a clear view of his text. He also frequently sends the performers up and down the aisle, having them linger so everyone gets a chance to see them close up. They also interact with the audience, with everyone called on upon to make a musical omelette and join in with a celebratory sing-song at the end.

There is, to be perfectly honest, little else that could be done to better adapt the show to the venue without cutting back on audience numbers. The space itself is so delightfully quirky which, combined with the piece's humour really brought out by Royston, means that there's enough of a good-natured atmosphere for any niggles to be forgiven immediately.

The performances are faultless, with perhaps Champion shining that little bit brighter - not only showing excellent vocal control but also her incredibly expressive face helps to translate the difficult dialogue. The few moments of spoken French are easy to follow - a bit of play around similar sounding words - but it's harder to follow the lyrics so the extra help is appreciated. And as she is tucked away house-left, you may never catch sight of her during the performance, but pianist Elizabeth Challenger must be mentioned too for her able accompaniment.

Le Docteur Miracle is light-hearted, accessible and an absolute must-see. At the end of the 90 minutes, you may still not be won over by the thought of going to the Royal Opera House, but if you don't want to instantly buy a ticket for this company's next show, you'll end up with egg on your face. Sorry.

Le Docteur Miracle ran from 4th March to 3rd May 2014 in and around London.

Nearest tube station: Kings Cross St. Pancras (Northern, Victoria, Piccadilly, Hammersmith & City, Circle, Metropolitan)

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