In the hinterland between both the characters and landscapes of ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ and ‘Made In Chelsea’ are a tranche of flashy, trashy London nightclubs, where hopeful hipsters wait under neon signs, awaiting the lifting of velvet ropes to inhabit the spirit of The Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now?’ There’s a club, if you’d like to go. You could meet somebody who really loves you… and thus, we have a set up – a mash up – for a completely reimagined Magic Flute.
A multi-instrumental four-piece band, six singers, and a simple revolving nightclub door are the bones of the piece, fleshed out with hen night detritus: kebab boxes, inflatable cocks and flamingoes, streamers, plastic tat and flashing rave lights. It’s an impressive feat to make such minimal staging feel so maximal, and to contemporise Mozart’s almost over-familiar opera in such a way and succeed.
The whole thing journeys through a perfectly observed stereotypical 20-somethings’ night out, following the arc from early doors through midnight bewitchery to hungover dawn and happy endings.
Our protagonists look like extras from ‘Fresh Meat’ or ‘Nathan Barley’, stumbling ingenues out of their depth in the mad cheese dream of a plot (which still retains recognisable elements of the original). And there are lovely surprising touches like Papageno’s hunt for Tamino (who is waiting at the club) taking him through the audience, stopping for selfies and some geezer bantz with the (mainly senior) crowd while on his phone to T-man: “it must be over 30s night”. The boys are silly, touching and endearing and the girls have some sass which rings current with the #metoo movement, with Papagena and Pamina delivering some wonderfully harmonic talk-to-the-hand whatevahs to the men: “dream on, bye bye, no way” (Glyn Maxwell’s libretto is entirely in English, and hilariously accessible for it).
The band cope admirably with the demanding score, with keys and electric guitar holding things together in a slightly Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s ‘Variations’ kind of way, and woodwind and double bass add some trad ballast. Nokia-style ringtones wittily replace Papageno’s panpipes.
Vocally, the cast are pros without a hint of hackneyed operatic stuck-uppery, completely inhabiting their street-smart personae and singing with clear diction (not always a given with opera) and beautiful tone. Luci Briginshaw’s Queen Of The Night delivers that aria with impressive ease.
It’s a bright, light, giddy, funny, frothy delight of a production – an overshaken Lambrini bottle of a performance fizzing over with sweetness and brilliance. Suck it up through all the straws.
‘The Magic Flute’ by Opera Up Close is currently touring the UK. Catch it at Canterbury’s Gulbenkian Theatre on 9 March 2018.