L'elisir D'amore

Gaetano Donizetti
Popup Opera
Blacks, Soho

L'elisir D'amore Credit: Richard Lakos

What do you do when the arts are struggling, funding cut from every outlet, and you want to work in a genre most consider elitist? Popup where the audiences least expect it and drag them into drama by placing it right under their noses to prove that opera really IS fun!

Popup Opera is touring its production of L’elisir D'amore to a host of unusual venues. No night will be the same, as audiences will find themselves in the Clearwell caves, on board a barge at Battersea and in a cylindrical shaft underneath the Thames to name but a few of the locations in this run.

Tonight's show is in a more conventional venue—but the smallest. With just thirty odd audience members and a playing space no wider than a corridor Popup Opera is getting close and personal. This pub-type opera has had a surge of interest since OperaUpClose's success. Tonight is no grungy pub. Instead, housed in a shabby antiquated club in Soho, the audience is drowning in cushions, a far cry from the King's Head Theatre.

The lack of room doesn't stop the five-handed cast having a whale of a time, and making sure we join in the jokes. Director-cum-MC for the evening Darren Royston sets the tone, cultivating a relaxed informal atmosphere, and hands out tuned teacups for an improvised overture accompaniment. On the piano is MD James Henshaw, who plays brilliantly throughout.

Not to spoil all of the show's treats, you should expect tea towel tussles, flying carrots, decapitated gingerbread, glove puppet gags and so much more. Sound silly enough? Popupopera has certainly captivated the frothy fun of Donizetti's frivolous tale.

Adina is a waitress at the Cafe D'amore and doted on by all men, particularly ardent admirer Nemorino whom she heartlessly teases, flirting with rich flour salesman Belcore. When pharmaceutical rep Dulcamara swoops into town, Nemorino desperately begs for a love potion and the chaos commences.

This tongue-in-cheek approach isn't limited to the action; expect less precisely translated subtitles and instead comic helpful hints. Cafe D'amore recipes projected on the wall include 'Nemorino seduction cake', requiring flour, a pinch of gold digging and a spoonful of suddenly-attracted-now-rich.

Director Royston knows how to cultivate comic effect with numerous props, a minimal budget and bags of quick gags that somehow avoid painfully being cringeworthy. The five's commedia-style acting injects energy into each scene, though Clementine Lovell (Adina) falls a little flat in comparison, needing to enlarge her already nicely-constructed character.

Vocally the boys upstage girls; Cliff Zammitt Stevens (Nemorino) boasts a resonate, free tenor voice, that certainly delivers on the high notes. He creates a Hugh Grant-style romantic lead, floundering and besotted but extremely likeable. Thomas Kennedy (Dulcamara) also excels as a charismatic pharmaceutical rep, with easy charm and a ready patter.

The success of this show is the acknowledgement that we aren't in a theatre, and so traditional boundaries are broken and the action is inclusive of the audience. Even more excitingly, the characters singing in Italian doesn’t hinder Royston’s adaptation. This shows that even when following the trend to move opera into unconventional formats, one can still hear the true beauty of the original language without limiting the production.

Judging by their easy adaptation to Blacks, Popup Opera is sure to make the experience unforgettable in its wackier venues. If you want an entertaining evening, this is the opera to see.

Reviewer: Louise Lewis