Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Renshaw’

There’ve been many adaptations of Bizet’s Carmen; this one owes as much to Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones as it does to Bizet’s original. It’s relocated to Cuba at the fag end of Batista’s regime and the start of the revolution and all those latin rhythms and moves unleash a new power. I loved it.

Carmen works in a cigar factory on Cuba’s south coast, where Jose is a military guard. She’s briefly imprisoned in Santiago for fighting and he’s imprisoned for letting her go. Boxer El Nino, en route to his fight in Havana, takes a fancy to Carmen, who follows him with Jose in tow; he can hardly contain his jealousy. The revolution has begun in Havana, but the boxing match goes on, and the tragedy unfolds. It’s presided over by La Senora who appears in many guises, a very clever idea.

Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire has created brilliant Latin arrangements and orchestrations, full of salsa, mambo, cha-cha-cha and rumba rhythms. This gives Cuban choreographer Roclan Gonzalez Chavez his starting point, from which he creates some thrilling dancing. Hector Martignon’s twelve-piece band whips up a storm. Tom Piper’s designs are very evocative of the period and the country, fading and falling down but still magical. The surtitles could have been positioned better and there was no need for Sadler’s Wells to replicate Cuban temperatures, but those are my only gripes!

Luna Manzanares Nardo as Carmen has the voice, moves and the sex appeal; she’s terrific. Saeed Mohamed Valdes is a touch restrained as Jose, but his vocals are superb. Joaquin Garcia Mejias has great presence as El Nino. La Senora in her many guises is brilliantly played by Albita Rodriguez. There’s great support from fourteen other actor-singers and ten dancers.

Above all, it’s the enthusiasm and energy of a stage full of Cuban talent that sweeps you away. Christopher Renshaw’s production is an outstanding reinvention of a classic.

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In years to come, I will no doubt be able to look back at my blog to remind myself what I thought about something I’ve seen before, but for now I will have to make do with my memory, which in this case is that the original production was nowhere near as good as this revival. I think this is partly due to staging it in a club and partly due to a superb cast, which includes three hugely impressive professional debuts.

There haven’t been many biographical musicals; Jersey Boys is the only one that comes to mind. This one centres around Culture Club’s Boy George and the music (new romantics), fashion, club culture (only just got the significance of the reversal of the band name as I typed it!) and sexual ambiguity that went with it all. The other real life characters are ‘singer’ Marilyn, club ‘hosts’ Philip Sallon & Steve Strange (who here has become Welsh in the same way One Man, Two Guvnor’s Francis has by re-casting), artist Lucien Freud and his subject benefits clerk Sue Tilley and of course the iconic Leigh Bowery.

Though these real life characters populate the show, it’s a fictional character, Billy, whose story provides the narrative. He abandons university to seek fame as a photographer in London, following his friend Kim who is making her name in fashion. He dinosaur dad Derek more than disapproves but his mum Josie is secretly supportive and eventually escapes the family home and joins Kim as a dressmaker and Billy in his new world.

Christopher Henshaw’s  excellent 360 degree staging really does facilitate the creation of this early 80’s sub-culture (though it almost did my neck in having to move my head frequently to see it all!), enabling them to perform on catwalks on two sides of the small round platform stage, on the bar and even on the bar tables. There’s no set, so Mike Nicholls brilliant costumes and Howard Hudson’s lighting have to do it all.

Paul Barker reprises his outstanding Olivier award-winning performance as Philip Sallon. Paul Kevin-Taylor transforms brilliantly from dinosaur dad to cross-dressing Petal to Lucien Freud (sometimes with extraordinary speed). Then there are the three auspicious debuts – Paul Treacy as Boy George, Alex Jordan-Mills as Billy and a very brave Sam Buttery (finalist in The Voice) as Leigh Bowery. It’s an exceptional cast.

I wasn’t particularly interested or enamoured with the period (I’d just had my second youth with punk and new wave) but with hindsight it was clearly more significant than I thought. Boy George doesn’t seek to recreate the music of the period (just a couple of CC songs I think) and his score serves the show well, but it’s the production and performances that make this a must see revival.

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