Review: Opera Come Strictly, Aylesbury Waterside

Opera Come Strictly, which performed at Aylesbury Waterside on Saturday evening, does at least do what it says on the tin. It is an evening of operatic arias, some of which are accompanied by ballroom dancing. And as such, it’s perfectly serviceable. The 15-piece orchestra, playing arrangements by musical director Stephen Higgins, give accomplished renditions that form a solid backbone to the evening.

There are, however, some severe shortcomings which prevent this from being as enjoyable an evening as it could be.

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Porgy and Bess

Reviewed for [The Stage](

Savoy Theatre, London
Author: DuBose Heyward
Composers: George Gershwin, lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin
Director: Trevor Nunn
Producers: Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel, Steven Baruch, Marc Routh, Howard Panter for Ambassador Theatre Group, Tulbart Productions
Cast includes: Clarke Peters, Nicola Hughes, Cornell John, Dawn Hope, OT Fagbenle, Melanie Marshall, Lorraine Velez, Edward Baruwa, Des Coleman, Sam Douglas
Running time: 3hrs

Converting George Gershwin’s only full opera into a piece of musical theatre was never going to be easy and while Trevor Nunn’s adaptation struggles at times, it couldn’t fail to be a visual and aural spectacle.

Removing the operatic recitatives and replacing them with spoken dialogue, sourced either from DuBose Heyward’s original novel Porgy or his later play adaptation, certainly allows the big show-stopping numbers space to stand out – but it also robs some of the opera’s lesser songs of their musical context.

In converting the original three-act piece into a standard two-act musical, the decision of where to place the single interval must inevitably draw compromise. Musically, it make sense to position it as here, with the residents of Catfish Row leaving for Kittiwah Island. That allows for a barnstorming commencement of Act II, with the ensemble clearly relishing the non-stop frivolity of I Ain’t Got No Shame, before O-T Fagbenle as a suitably demonic Sporting Life lets rip with It Ain’t Necessarily So. However, it does mean that there is none of the crucial pre-interval dramatic tension. A more effective break would surely have been at the end of the island scene, with Bess under the influence of her former lover.

Bess herself, as played by Nicola Hughes, struggles to justify her frequent changes of character – while this is also a fault of the original operatic structure, Nunn’s abbreviated form makes her transformation seem all the more unlikely.

Clarke Peters’ crippled Porgy, meanwhile, stands out as he should. An incredibly physical performance which never fails to convince, Peters gives us a character who, unswerving in his faith in Bess from the outset, proves to be truer of heart than all the God-fearing ladies who initially turn their back on her.

The supporting cast all excel, most notably Dawn Hope’s Serena, who as the mourning widow renders My Man’s Gone Now as a sobbing, grief-stricken lament. Jason Pennycooke’s choreography and John Gunter’s stunning set designs add much to the evening’s enjoyment and help ensure that the three-hour running time rarely drags.