Theatre review - Carmen

OperaUpClose is renowned for its bold staging of opera in intimate spaces, paring down the cast and reworking the music for a trio or quartet. Their imaginative adaptation of Georges Bizet’s Carmen at Soho Theatre features some of the best singing I’ve heard from the troupe.

Don José (Anthony Flaum), a young soldier, falls for Carmen (Flora McIntosh), a popular and relentless flirt. José rejects his loyal childhood friend Micaela (Louisa Tee), and then loses his job after attacking his captain (Julian Debreuil). While José is away visiting his sick mother, Carmen moves on to her next conquest, the macho toreador Escamillo (Richard Immergluck). On his return, José kills Carmen in a fit of jealous rage.

Robin Norton-Hale’s production resets Carmen in a South American tobacco factory and composer Harry Blake has skilfully orchestrated Bizet’s melodies for a quartet of strings, woodwind and piano.

While the musical standards are superb, the costumes are cumbersome. McIntosh plays Carmen’s final scenes in black leggings, which diminishes her erotic appeal. Furthermore, there is nothing to indicate Carmen’s carefree, Gypsy background.

However, Norton-Hale’s focus on domestic abuse is a powerful one, underlining that Carmen is an opinionated, sexually confident woman who becomes the victim of José’s controlling nature.

Mcintosh’s Carmen is memorable and her voice is sublime. Flaum conveys just the right measure of naivety, shyness and a thuggish desire to dominate his beloved. The final act between Carmen and José is truly electrifying.

Soho Theatre until September 19,
Box office: 020 7478 0100

Originally published by Camden Review