‘Don Giovanni’ (Festival Theatre: 14, 17, 19, 21, 23 Nov ’13)

5. Scottish Opera's Don Giovanni, 2013. Directed by Sir Thomas Allen, Designed by Simon Higlett. Credit James Glossop.

Image courtesy of James Glossop

“Loporello’s rather oaf like simplicity contrasts brilliantly with Jacques Imbrailo’s suave, cool and arrogant Don Giovanni, sweeping about in a rather splendid coat like a cross between Zorro and Prince Charming”

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

If Don Giovanni lived today, The Priory would have him in a heartbeat. I think it’s safe to say his lascivious antics would more than qualify him as a sex addict. Unfortunately for Don Giovanni  (and rather fortunately for the women of Western Europe it seems) instead of a £600 a night treatment programme, he finds himself dragged into the fiery depths of hell  -free of charge, I presume – to be toasted for all eternity by beings that rather resemble the desert people of Star Wars. Still, it makes a good opera.

In this version, presented by Scottish Opera, the drama has migrated east from its original setting of Spain to a shadowy 18th Century Venice. Perhaps they are hinting at the similarities between Don Giovanni and the legendary seducer Giacomo Casanova –acquaintance of Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo De Ponte.  Apart from this slight geographic adjustment, this production is a fairly traditional one – there’s no La Scala floor to ceiling mirrors to accuse the audience here! In a world abuzz with finding new adaptations, angles and settings, though, Scottish Opera prove that traditional does not have to mean dull.

One of the more challenging aspects of this rather tricky work is its drammo giocoso genre. Playing the comedic moments for optimum laughs whilst building the dramatic undercurrent to a climactic and rather sensational finale is an art, and something this production does well. It is a production of rich characters in which no emotion is half felt and the cast largely embody these.  The Laporello/Don Giovanni relationship eschews the more rigid servant/master dynamic in favour of a more shiny superhero and less successful sidekick feel. Laporello, played gloriously by Peter Kalman, draws hearty laughs from the audience with his reluctant service, sarcastic comments and fantastic acting. His rather oaf like simplicity contrasts brilliantly with Jacques Imbrailo’s suave, cool and arrogant Don Giovanni, sweeping about in a rather splendid coat like a cross between Zorro and Prince Charming. It’s safe to say his dark good looks and robust, velvety baritone proved an irresistible elixir for women both on and off stage.

Sneaking up behind him, though, is Barnaby Rea’s Masetto who oozes masculinity from every pore. It is a delight to watch him being frustrated and manipulated by the bewitching Anna Devin as Zerlina. In a cast of magnificent voices, Devin’s stands out as something particularly special. Apart from her delightful, impish acting, her soprano is as resonant as a bell, sailing effortlessly over the orchestra to caress and entice the audience. On a slightly disappointing note, Ed Lyon’s Don Ottavio stuck out as a little lost. Despite pleasing vocals, he lacked the developed character of the rest – and his Captain Hook costume was a little bizarre.

The passion flowing from the stage was matched by that rising from the pit. The orchestra seemed to delight in Mozart’s complex score, particularly the final, ombra soaked scene filled with drama, tension and trombone blasts. It was generally led well by the baton of Speranza Scapucci, although a slightly livelier tempo would have been no bad thing.

Mark Jonathan and Simon Higlett, too, should be congratulated on their lighting and set design. The dark palette and clever lighting (or rather, shadow) design kept the production cloaked in a veil of mystery and reinforced the dark nature of the plot, in a subtle rather than overpowering way.

Don Giovanni is one of the most performed operas in the world for a reason. It has excellent music, an engaging plot and some wonderful personalities. Scottish Opera have produced a very accessible production with some top notch character development, rich voices and effective staging. Whether you are a seasoned opera goer or a complete beginner, you could do worse than catch this interpretation of the Mozart classic.

nae bad_blue

Reviewer: Madeleine Ash (Seen 19 November)

‘Translunar Paradise’ (Traverse: 18-19 Oct ’13)

Translunar Paradise @ MAC by Alex Brenner (_D3C6294)

Image by Alex Brenner

“The piece meanders between the couples’ experience of youth and old age, a personal tragedy, the war and a daily routine that proves hard to break when he is left alone.”

Editorial Rating: Unrated 

A Fringe hit in 2011 and 2012, Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise has since travelled the globe, appearing everywhere from Colombia to Croatia. Last week, as part of its national tour, it swept into Edinburgh’s familiar surroundings once more.

The production’s global reach is testament to its wonderfully universal nature. The subject matter – the difficulties of losing a loved one – is one that everyone, regardless of culture, status or age, can relate to in their own way, and the delivery of this narrative entirely in mime ensures language is no barrier. Using such a universal story and no spoken word creates a space for each audience member to project their own story, their own experience of loss, onto the characters – leading to a very personal experience and not a few emotional sniffs.

Whilst this is a strength in one respect, in another it leads to a fairly predictable, if touching, story arc: we watch as a man in his twilight years struggles to adjust to daily life after his wife of many years passes away – though her spirit remains, intervening, to help her pained husband move forward. The piece meanders between the couples’ experience of youth and old age, a personal tragedy, the war and a daily routine that proves hard to break when he is left alone.

To illustrate the jumps between youth and old age, the cast employ the use of masks. Initially, these are incredibly effective, Michael Sharman (William, the husband) and Deborah Pugh (Rose, the wife) incorporate them seamlessly into their fantastically crumpled and stiff physicalities, complete with the soundscape of old age: the sighs, strains and the hrumphs. However, as the story progresses the masks begin to hinder rather than help. Once they have been removed once or twice we lose the illusion that they are part of the actors, and increasingly become aware that there is a face behind them, that they are actors playing a character – which could easily have been forgotten in the opening sequence. Moreover, the actors’ faces are so lively and full of expression that when the masks return you become acutely aware of just how much they limit expression, stuck as they are in one position. This became a particular problem in sadder moments as the female mask seems to contain just a hint of a smile.

Accompanying the actors is Kim Heron, who brings her haunting vocals, Yann Tiersen-esque accordion playing and a crucial pair of hands to the production (having actors limited to just one hand while the other holds the mask makes carrying and staging quite tricky. Luckily, Heron’s knack for multitasking – simultaneously singing, playing the accordion and carrying props around for the actors – helps keep the production moving). The accompaniment is beautiful and effectively highlights the mood and period of a scene, for instance using war time classics such as ‘We’ll Meet Again’ ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. However, its continuous use and somewhat samey feel means it loses effect. By the time the final moments arrive, where a well-placed accompaniment could convert a few sniffs to flowing tears and a much greater emotional climax, it is so familiar that it lacks the impact it could so easily have.

At the moment Translunar Paradise errs on the slower, more drawn out side –not helped by the predictability of the story. However, it is also a warming, gentle piece of theatre, with interesting staging, a lovely universality to it and the potential to do even more.

‘Dark Road’ (Lyceum: 25 Sept – 19 Oct ’13)

Robert Gwilym as Frank Bowman , Ron Donachie as Fergus McLintock and Maureen Beattie as Isobel McArthur

Image by Douglas McBride

“The production is a mixed bag in most regards.”

Editorial Rating: Unrated

Ian Rankin is no stranger to Edinburgh’s criminal underworld –fictionally, of course. Inspector Rebus, Rankin’s most famous literary creation, is known to millions as the slightly off-beat but loveable curmudgeon, for whom this city’s cobbled streets are home. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that his theatrical debut (in collaboration with the Lyceum’s own Mark Thomson) is firmly rooted in this world.

It is twenty five years since the conviction of Alfred Chalmers for the murder and mutilation of four young Edinburgh women (there are definite comparisons to be made with the BBC’s hit series The Fall). This, combined with her thirtieth anniversary of being on the force, provokes Superintendent Isobel McArthur (Maureen Beattie) to reflect on what proved a land mark case in her career; or, more specifically, on a nagging doubt she has harboured since that day. Dredging up the past, however, reveals a well of raw emotions in both her closest work colleagues and her only daughter, Alexandra.

The production is a mixed bag in most regards. On the one hand, much of the writing is disappointingly predictable – not simply in terms of the plot, but also the inclusion of well-worn topics such as sexism in the police, the role of a policeman’s ‘hunch’ in conviction, and the bureaucratic barrier of paperwork that stands between policemen and ‘real police work’; a commentary that fails to really add any new angles on these issues. On the other, some of the writing is delicious – finding its strongest moments in scenes of quippy character interaction.

Similarly, a handful of characters were intensely believable – Philip Whitchurch’s portrayal of Alfred Chalmers was magnetic, managing to baffle the audience and leave us in a confused state, somewhere between terror and sympathy. But, at the other end of the spectrum, Sara Vickers (Alexandra) was lumped with a caricature of a teenage girl, whose mood swings between being angsty and angry, and as horny as a bitch in heat, leave her little room for development.

An area of no doubt, however, was staging – which was certainly the production’s strongest suit. The three room revolve worked incredibly well, particularly with the addition of corridors which provided both a realistic edge and an extra dimension to the performance. Furthermore, the soundtrack, ranging from a lamenting violin to Psycho inspired string segments, did much to add dramatic tension in scenes and maintain atmosphere between them; combining well with projections that slowly built a visual backstory for the audience.

Dark Road has the beginnings of a good production, but there is work to be done. It would benefit from some trimming – particularly in the first half, where certain scenes and ideas dragged on too long – and a more careful concealment of the plot to avoid the predictability that currently plagues it. As it stands, Dark Road is middle of the road.

Reviewer: Madeleine Ash (Seen 28 September)

Visit Dark Road homepage here.

Three to See: Summerhall: September ’13

This September Edinburgh49‘s Three to See events at Summerhall are:

Only Wolves and Lions (18:30 – 12 & 14, 14:30 – 15 September, Summerhall)

“Only Wolves And Lions takes a fresh look at human behaviour in the pursuit of happiness. After food clothes and shelter, what do we need? Exploring ideas surrounding community, isolation and the meaning of the word crisis, Leo Kay and Unai Lopez de Armentia invite you to cook, eat and speak together”

Images Were Introduced (11:00-18:00 – Daily until 27 September, Summerhall)

“Michael Nyman’s first ever exhibition in Scotland will consist of a major installation in Summerhall’s Upper Church Gallery (off Hope Street Terrace) showing simultaneously the video film-maker, photographer and composer’s ten (10!) remakes of the famous vintage film “Man with a Movie Camera” by the Russian film-maker Dziga Vertov and his wife Yelizaveta Svilova (who edited the film).”

Neu! Reekie! 39 (19:00, 27 September, Summerhall)

“Brought to you my Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson Neu! Reekie! is a delicious feast of spoken word, music, animation and film fusion.”