BWW Review: COUNT ORY, Arcola Theatre
Take a little Dad's Army, stir in a soupçon of Gilbert and Sullivan and a dash of The Two Ronnies and, well, the Rossini still comes through, but we're at Grimeborn and here anything goes. Well, up to a point.
The power of the boutique opera comes in its combination of the timeless music, albeit with one piano rather than an orchestra, the unique experience of hearing operatic singers performing so close up that your earlobes vibrate and the wild re-imagining of mises-en-scène.
So Opera Alegría time-travel the naughty Count (and he is a right naughty count) from the 13th century Crusades to the 20th century Home Front, all digging for victory and nylons drawn on bare legs. And it works, not least when the women, left at home, peel their market garden carrots and, er..., think (I'll say think) about their absent men.
Of course, the plot is ever so silly. The priapic Count is pursuing the aristocratic Adele but she's in love with humble farmer, Nathaniel - but she quite likes the Count too, the hussy. Various sidekicks come and go, at one time employing in the kind of bad habits left over from The Benny Hill Show. Not much chance of those lads getting to a nunnery...
If this review is making the show sound a little broad, there's plenty of genuine wit in Lindsay Bramley's libretto, some of rhymes of which would have pleased William Gilbert. And if director Benjamin Newhouse-Smith doesn't quite maintain the hectic pace his farceur's approach demands, the time never drags and the singers are given plenty of room for the arias.
And they are splendid! The ever reliable Alistair Sutherland reaches down to his boots for his bass role, Hopkins and is as fine comedian as ever. So too the sweet tenor voice Robert Jenkins, who gives us plenty of Kenneth Williamsish aghast asides. And Matthew Duncan nails his boozy account of a cellar raid perfectly.
But it's the women who really steal the show - Naomi Kilby, Caroline Carragher, Fae Evelyn and, in a trouser role, Alicia Gurney. Individually they are excellent, but they come into their own in harmonies that really bounce off the bare walls with control and power. And, sung in English without surtitles in an unforgiving space, I'm delighted to report that you can hear every word.
This production may not please everyone, but it's funny, accessible to newbies and deadly serious in honouring the music of its source. Traditionalists may scoff at some of the madcap mayhem as it's not quite a comic opera, but it's a lot of fun all the same. And very much in the spirit of the Grimeborn season.