Theatre Review - Tosca

OperaUpClose’s stunning adaptation of La Bohème  was one of the best productions that I saw at Soho Theatre in 2010. Since then, the company has acquired a permanent base at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington and produced new versions of Don Giovanni, Madame Butterfly and Carmen among several other operas. Now they return to Soho with Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s vivid reinterpretation of Puccini’s Tosca set in East Germany in 1989 just before the fall of the wall.

Mario Cavaradossi (Gareth Dafydd Morris) is a painter in love with the famed opera singer Floria Tosca (Demelza Stafford). When Cavaradossi helps Angelotti, an escaped political prisoner, by offering him sanctuary in his home, he finds himself pursued by Scarpia (Francis Church) head of the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police. Cavaradossi is taken in for questioning. Tosca is performing a concert in the same building and is summoned by Scarpia. Unnerved by the sounds of her lover being tortured in the next room (brilliantly conveyed by Scarpia’s shredding of photographs), Tosca breaks down and reveals Angelotti’s hiding place. Cavaradossi is arrested and faces the firing squad. Meanwhile, Scarpia suggests to Tosca that by giving herself to him she could save Cavaradossi’s life.

In Spreadbury-Maher’s engaging production Puccini’s opera is pared right down to basics but has not lost any of its drama. There are two casts of five actors that alternate nightly, accompanied by a three piece band with musical director Elspeth Wilkes on piano, Fiona Mitchell on cello and William Rudge on clarinet. Musical standards are high, although, I have to admit, a couple of the singers lacked clear diction on the night I went. Caveats aside, I like the production’s simplicity and roughness around the edges. It’s well paced (running at two and a half hours including two intervals) and imaginatively staged. Given that it all ends in tragedy, it may seem odd to conclude that this version of Tosca is a really fun evening – but it is.

Running at Soho Theatre until 15 Sep, 7.30pm

Originally published by Theatreworld