BWW Interviews: Director Robert Chevara of DIE FLEDERMAUS at The King's Head Theatre

BWW Interviews: Director Robert Chevara of DIE FLEDERMAUS at The King's Head Theatre

Robert Chevara, Associate Director of The King's Head Theatre, spoke to BWW's Gary Naylor prior to opening of a new version of Die Fledermaus, which will run at the venue until 18 January.

I've never directed an operetta before. In the last two years. I've directed a Tennesse Williams play at The King's Head (Vieux Carre, reviewed here), an opera by Puccini and the world premiere of a Lionel Bart show. They asked me what I'd like to do next and I thought it would be a real challenge to do something I'd never done before. Those pieces I mentioned are really wonderful, but they're quite dark, quite heavy and I said I wanted to do something that has a real feeling of beauty and wit and lightness. At its best, operetta is like three glasses of really fantastic champagne and I wanted to see if I could capture that on a small scale.

You have to take on what the place gives you. You can make something epic in a small space, but it comes out different. What The King's Head gives is an amazing intimacy. Because Die Fledermaus is based on a farce, the very quick moments of people coming on and going off cannot be done with "big stage" accuracy - so they're quite difficult to get right!

As an adapter and someone who has written new versions of stuff, you can completely rewrite the experience people have of an opera that may in (its original format) be very grand. In Act Three of West End Girl [Robert's previous opera at the venue], the heroine arrives on a horse to rescue her husband - in my version, I thought about the modern equivalent. So, in a production set in an underground car park, she rode through the audience on a motorbike. We didn't know if it would work right up until previews - but the scale allowed us to think about what would inspire an audience, without our having to consider its impact on an orchestra of a hundred or the expense. You get a free pallette to paint your own picture.

Die Fledermaus is set in London, right now, in a flat in Notting Hill. The way I've done it is very surreal - the singers all dance on and create a set around the audience, a painted space, like a Rothko. Budgets are very small, so you have to boil it down to what you need - then the piece tells you what you can do. I've been very lucky - our designer designed Athol Fugard's The Island at The Young Vic and Isabella Mortimer, one of Matthew Bourne's lead dancers, has choreographed the big dance scene in Act 2, drawing on Sweet Charity. I said to her that we can do what we like - but we only have this much room! We worked out where the dancers could go to make the stage really come alive.That narrowness focused us in a very exciting way.

I've got a really fantastic cast, all standing on the cusp of big careers. In big houses, you're always working with two, sometimes three, sets of actors for each production. You work for 90 minutes with the first cast, then they watch the second cast.I never get them to try to replicate each other. I try to give them a different feeling, because each artist brings their own personality to a role - as they should.Rosalinde (in Fledermaus) is such a big part (something beyond mid-Verdi and moving towards Wagner) so we had to double-cast it. Both women are very different - one plays it quite young, the other more mature and sophisticated. There's never an A or B cast, just one actor in a role one evening and another on another - it works around actors' availability as well. There's always new energy being injected into the show.

You work with people who really want to be there and love what they do. Sometimes you go into a big house and it's great, but it's their job.Young singers come out of college and they still want to change the world and, in a way, that's why you go to see them. They're great to work with because they're willing to go with you in rewriting what operas are all about.

I was very lucky because directors are usually asked to do A Doll's House or something, but I was able to say that I'd love to do Die Fledermaus at Christmas. They said why, and I said because the whole of Act 2 is a party and it would fantastic for everyone at Christmas to come out singing these wonderful tunes and have that Christmassy spirit, without it being Scrooge or another typical Christmas show. It fills people with joy and makes people feel great about being alive.I don't think there can be anything better for a Christmas show, really.

I'll be reviewing Die Fledermaus on 11 December.

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