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BWW Review: THE WEEKEND, Bloomsbury Theatre


Scott Stroman's new opera finds humour and pathos in an adaptation of Michael Palin's satire of middle class, middle aged angst

BWW Review: THE WEEKEND, Bloomsbury Theatre

BWW Review: THE WEEKEND, Bloomsbury Theatre You have to be very brave (pace Sir Humphrey Appleby) to put on a new opera, a comedy to boot, in a cavernous house on a Sunday evening, but that's what Highbury Opera Theatre did and, possibly fired by the optimism of Michael Palin's chartered accountant who so wanted to be a lion tamer, they only pull the damned thing off!

Based on Palin's 1990s play (but this is very 2020s material), The Weekend takes us into the middle-class home of Stephen Febble, whose life, constructed atop an enormous tower of privilege and entitlement, is falling apart. His daughter is coming to visit with her despised husband ("the son-IN-LAW") and even more despised dog, it's their turn to host the village get-together, his best friend has just sold him out in favour of political pole-climbing and an unexpected guest, having just sold his Porsche to buy a yacht, is charming all the women. Cue a Fawltyish trip to the edge of a nervous breakdown.

But the, if you'll forgive the pun, element that makes the piece sing is that it's a full scale opera - the principals are supported by a nine piece ensemble and a chorus that gives plenty to both eyes and ears. Tamsin Collison (with exactly the kind of enthusiastic support one would expect from the play's author) has written a funny and tight libretto that has allowed Scott Stroman to build a beautiful score that swings with jazz-inflected tunes, dips and soars as operatic music must, and insists the story into our minds.

This strong foundation is placed in the hands of singers who do it full justice. Adrian Thompson is cast perfectly as Stephen (well, he should be - the part was written for him) all pent-up rage, long-festered guilt and male petulance. You really do fear that he might burst a blood vessel! Kathy Taylor-Jones has the thankless task of playing the traditonal long-suffering wife, but her singing adds much colour to a monochrome role.

Joanna Harries is the standout amongst the support cast, her mezzo-soprano lending pathos to the daughter whose life is falling apart yet nobody is willing to speak to her. As is the case in both her families, the outward display of conventional "success" hides a loneliness that is eating the soul. Cleveland Watkiss has a lot of fun with the ladykiller podiatrist Hugh Bedales, bringing his background in jazz to the part oozing with snaky charm, the outsider this all-too insular community needs (and fears).

All-through in 80 minutes, we're left feeling a tiny bit short-changed, with some characters going into an uncertain future and others acknowledging the compromises family life forces upon all of us. More telling perhaps, is that I could easily have wallowed in another hour or so of that beautiful score, played with such accomplishment by the ensemble, autumnal music in the Autumn for a piece that reflects on the Autumn of a couple's comfortable, but unfilled, lives.

The Weekend is at the Bloomsbury Theatre until 27 September.

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