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BWW Review: THE MODERATE SOPRANO, Duke Of York's Theatre


The Moderate SopranoThe Moderate SopranoAfter its momentous success at the Hampstead Theatre, David Hare's sweet love story transfers to the West End. Centring on the formation of the globally revered Glyndebourne, the play reveals the two great passions of John Christie: the opera, and his beautiful wife, the soprano Audrey Mildmay.

However, passion isn't enough for this venture and Christie seeks help. Hearing the news that Nazi Germany is ousting some of its creatives, he searches for a team to assist in bringing his vision to life. But it won't be easy; even though Christie has the money, these refugees have different artistic tastes and values that could cause confrontation.

There is no surprise that this production transferred to the West End. The show is so quintessentially the stereotype of British values that it's sure to sell tickets. It's a play written for the bourgeoisie, middle-class audience, but those that don't fall into that bracket might find it hard to engage with.

That being said, it is brilliantly acted and the cast master Hare's quick-paced text, landing every quip with skill. In the lead roles, Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll are a duo so perfectly matched. The energy between the two is incredibly inviting to watch; their relationship is warm and sincere, and their dynamic perfectly encapsulates a loving couple that will do anything for one another.

But great performances aren't enough. The script's overall trajectory is obtuse and remains consistently on the same one note. Art's importance in society and the impact of war on its citizens are themes that are touched on lightly, but never explored in great depth. It would have added more layers, and perhaps raised the stakes. At the moment they aren't high enough, which means the overall viewing experience is rather passive.

And that's fine, if you're into that. The piece never drags, so if you do want to sit back and have a nice night out at the theatre, without much provocation, then this is the play to see. However, if you want to be challenged and feel something more, then there are better options for that in the local area.

When the play ends you're actually surprised in a way. Everything seems to be over so quickly, but nothing's actually happened, apart from four people talking to one another consecutively. Opera was always teased, but never delivered and it would have added a nice touch to hear some of this fine art.

It's impossible to discredit the performances, or Bob Crowley's luxurious design, but I look back and think, what have I learnt from this? Jeremy Herrin's production is good, but it's also safe. Where's the danger?

The Moderate Soprano at the Duke of York's Theatre until 30 June

Read our interviews with Jeremy Herrin and Nancy Carroll

Photo credit: Johan Persson

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