It can’t be easy to direct a production by email, yet that was the task set Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami when complications surrounding his visa application became too much to tolerate. As a result, Kiarostami stayed at home and directed remotely through colleague Elaine Tyler-Hall.
The subsequent production of Mozart’s opera buffa lingers on the lighter side of a story in which two friends are convinced to test the loyalty of their lovers by donning disguises and wooing each other’s girlfriends.
As the architect of the illusion, Steven Page’s Don Alfonso sets the tone. His performance, in which the line between speech and song is blurred to strong effect, never seems sinister, rather calm, controlled, confident and convinced that he is doing the boys a favour by explaining to them that no women are trustworthy.
This central idea grates a little in the 21st century, the plot’s denuement still feeling somewhat unsatisfying; but if the concerns of the real world are left in the cloakroom, the playfulness of the piece takes over.
No performer embodies this sense of fun more than Sophie Bevan, the diminutive diva whose Despina, maid servant to sisters Fiordiligi (Susan Gritton) and Dorabella (Fiona Murphy), is delightfully cheeky in her treatment of the melodramatic, mannered siblings, who, like all good unsuspecting suitors should, fall for a disguise that is little more than a change of hairstyle and the addition of a moustache of which Terry Thomas would be proud.
The facial hair seems to add a little testosterone to the previously flaccid protagonists (Liam Bonner and Thomas Glenn), who move from prim and proper – and slightly po-faced – soldiers to womanising wooers.
Malika Chauveau’s towering set is dominated by the projected backdrop, most often displaying an enticing seascape, which is given a witty, self-referential flourish for the opening and the finale. Both drew smiles and laughter from the first night audience. It is just a shame that Kiarostami wasn’t there to hear them for himself.