REVIEW: THE RINSE CYCLE (Charing Cross Theatre)

The Rinse Cycle is the latest offering from Unexpected Opera. Artistic Director Lynn Binstock wants to make opera fun and accessible. This this time she’s taking on Wagner, condensing the sixteen hours of The Ring Cycle’s four operas into a two hour show in two acts, “conveying the crucial elements of the story and offering an experience of Wagner’s music”.

Wagner took 26 years to write this epic series of operas, intended to be performed over four consecutive evenings. This show presents the edited highlights of a sprawling tale of a ring that bestows great power on whoever possesses it with a cast of gods, mortals, dwarfs, mermaids and, of course Valkyries. The drama runs through three generations of characters until it reaches its final climax with the fall of the gods and the destruction of Valhalla.

The action here is moved from Valhalla to Patisserie Valkyrie, a café doubling up as a laundrette where unemployed opera singers earn a crust. The cast of five, three women and two men; play all the roles, singing highlights in English with explanatory narrative filling in the gaps and gently mocking the source material.

There are two casts for this show, both made up of opera singers accompanied by a single pianist, a far cry from the huge orchestra required by Wagner’s score. Seeing and hearing opera singing up close in small venue gives a very different experience from large scale performances in opera houses. This is opera stripped to its bare bones. The low budget and small cast is made a feature with twin giants played by a pair of oven gloves on broom handles and a steam iron becoming a fierce dragon. The Rhine is represented with bubbles blowing out of a washing machine.

I’m not sure how those with a love of Wagner’s music would feel about this light-hearted take on his work. I came to this show with minimal knowledge of Wager or the Ring Cycle and was entertained but not convinced to commit to watching the full sixteen hour version. I was, however, inspired to find out what the Valkyries are singing about after the audience engagement in the finale.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans

The Rinse Cycle is playing at the Charing Cross Theatre until 12 March 2016