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The Perfect Picnic

Libretto by Ian Bloomfield and Tim Armstrong-Taylor, based on selections from operatic scores by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Opera on the Run
Jermyn Street Theatre
(2007)

Production photo

Tim Armstrong-Taylor and Ian Bloomfield, talented young directors of the Opera on the Run company, have invented a light and sophisticated opera theatre piece that combines a melodic Mozartian score with their own witty 21st-Century libretto.

Two thirty-something couples who meet at an open-air opera gala find their love lives intertwined in a midsummer evening’s dream of romance as they sup champagne during the interval picnic.

They are being led on by the tricks of Clare Kinson’s manipulative Puck, a fierce fairy clad all in black, who has nothing better to do than tweak their heartstrings while also teasing them with her bizarre appearances as comic working-class figures, including a droll Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques.

As well as the brilliant selection of Mozart melodies, ranging from arias and duets to fluently sung quartets, the evening is lit up by a backdrop of sylvan, theatrical and romantic images by the French Impressionists, familiar pieces of art that not only set the mood of each scene but are sometimes reflected in the downstage action.

The effect is thus like a small-scale companion piece to the Menier hit revival of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George — but with better tunes — as when the four actors disport themselves on the picnic lawn in a modern-dress version of Edouard Manet’s sexy Déjeneur sur l’herbe, free love for four under the trees.

Vocal highlight of the evening is Cheryl Enever’s thrilling mezzo, dressed in a stunning series of figure-hugging gowns.

She plays Rachael, a rising young diva, star of the evening’s entertainment, who is suddenly astonished to see her beloved ex-husband David (debonair baritone Tim Armstrong-Taylor) in the audience, seated right next to her current boyfriend, the suave Michael (tenor Ian Bloomfield) who has designed the gala event.

But it comes as no surprise to us that Michael’s eyes pop out like organ stops from the first moment that he clocks David’s latest partner, the flirtatious Sarah, a blonde soprano beautifully sung by Lynn Marie Boudreau who, under the bubbly influence of interval libations, soon surrenders to his chat-up line, not to mention his clever way with a punting pole — the latter an ingenious piece of theatrical artifice, repeated when Rachael and David also pole themselves into view.

If the evening's particular pleasure is to hear familiar operatic melodies put to new use, the Gilbertian libretto is full of verbal felicities and witty rhyming couplets, while accompanist Kelvin Lim also puts on a dazzling keyboard performance that brings rich orchestral coloration to the piano transcriptions of Mozart’s best-loved vocal melodies.

The show, just 40 minutes either side of a 15 minute interval, seems sure to tour, but meanwhile London audiences can enjoy it at the intimate Jermyn Street Theatre, Tuesday to Saturday until 2nd February 2008, leaving plenty of time for a late dinner in town.

Reviewer: John Thaxter