REVIEW: LA BOHÈME (King’s Head Theatre) ★★★


What happens when you cross Rent with La Bohème? It might seem interesting to amalgamate Puccini’s opera with Larson’s musical, but that is precisely what Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Becca Marriott have done.

Brought (even more) up-to-date, flat mates Mark (Thomas Humphreys) and Ralph (Matthew Kimble) are realising that their dreams alone will not pay the bills. They’re cold, starving and lonely. But after Mark heads to the pub, Mimi (Becca Marriott) rocks up looking for a lighter and life gets more interesting. Throw Musetta aka Maureen (aka Honey Rounani) into the mix and it’s pure operatic drama.

The idea is there for sure and it’s a solid production. It starts off a bit slowly, but once it gets going, the action takes over and absorbs the audience. The four actors are strong, although it is Marriott who emerges as the star. Rounani provides the humour, gyrating and flirting with several men in the audience in perfect Maureen style, but Marriott’s portrayal of Mimi is extremely moving – her final scene is as shocking as it is sad.

The set is well thought-out, complete with a window onto the fire escape and a well-stocked pub. There’s also a fabulous orchestra (Panaretos Kyriatzidis and Alison Holford) hanging out in the bar and delighting the audience with Puccini’s spellbinding music.

Discreet symbolism flows throughout the piece, with Mimi’s obsession with birds enhanced by her escape through the window. The use of mobiles phones instead of a candle in the scene where Mimi and Ralph meet is also effective and symbolic of his later hatred of her phone obsession.

Strangely, the four actors’ voices do not complement each other as well as they should, although individually they are very talented singers. At times, the words are lost, which is a shame as in places the modern lyrics are very funny, although at times they do feel a little forced, as if the piece is trying too hard.

Yet this version of La Bohème is humorous and it is poignant. In fact, it’s a commendable attempt at blending opera with modern-day drama and very nearly succeeding.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Andreas Grieger

La Bohème plays at the Kings Head Theatre until 8 October 2016