Carmen Disruption

Published April 20, 2015

What’s it all about?

This is Bizet’s opera Carmen like you’ve never seen it before.

Set in an unspecified European city, it follows a group of individuals who find themselves isolated and alone in the modern world.

Exploring our obsession and reliance on social media, Simon Stephens’ take on the operatic classic gives its well-known characters new identities and connects them all through a fatal motorcycle accident.

Who’s in it?

Jack Farthing takes on the title character, who in this version of tale is a vain and self-interested rentboy whose sexual liaison with a client turns nasty.

Noma Dumezweni, a far cry from Bizet’s Don José, is not a soldier, but a widowed taxi driver who longs to be reunited with her son.

Sharon Small is The Singer, an opera star who lands at the unnamed city’s opera house to play the title role in yet another production of Carmen.

John Light is a gym-addicted banker and Katie West is a student, recently dumped by her boyfriend, who churns out essay after failed essay.

So, no, not your typical Carmen characters.

While the individuals may be unrecognisable from their traditional incarnations, opera comes in the form of world renowned mezzo-soprano Viktoria Vizin, who belts out arias – in both French and English – in flawless and spine-tingling bursts throughout the production.

What should I look out for?

The slightly unusual way that you get to your seat. Instead of entering the stalls through the normal entrance, audiences are taken into the wings, past Small’s dressing room and on to the stage, where they’re confronted with the piece de resistance of Lizzie Clachan’s stunning design, the lifeless body of a full-sized bull, which offers up its own surprise later in the production.

In a nutshell?

Bizet’s opera becomes a visually exciting spectacular in the hands of Michael Longhurst, who creates a dark modern world for Simon Stephens’ newly invented characters to inhabit.

Who was in the press night crowd?

There was a strong, albeit eclectic, line-up upfront (in less footballing terms, the seats in front) with Gary Lineker sandwiched between playwright Stephens and the Almeida Theatre’s Artistic Director Rupert Goold. Bertie Carvel, who will star alongside Ben Whishaw in Bakkhai at the venue in the summer, was also seen taking his seat in the stalls.

Will I like it?

There are more productions of Carmen opening in the capital this year than Bizet would know what to do with. The London Coliseum hosts Calixto Bieito’s acclaimed interpretation of the classic from May, Matthew Bourne brings it to life with his dazzling choreography at Sadler’s Wells in July and OperaUpClose brings its “tantalising” take to the Soho Theatre in August. But, while I can’t speak for the other productions, I’d imagine that Stephens’ version pushes the most boundaries.

For opera fans, it’s a dynamic reimagining of the passionate tale; for those who’ve never before stepped foot in an opera house, it’s an innovative piece of theatre about a group of individuals who you don’t necessarily have to link to Bizet’s traditional characters.

Carmen Disruption is playing at the Almeida Theatre until 23 May. You can book tickets through the venue’s website.

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