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The Magic Flute Riverside Studios BargainTheatreland ReviewI entered The Merry Opera Company’s adaption of Mozart’s The Magic Flute with some trepidation. With radically modernised productions in vogue, I feared some hybrid contemporary musical theatre/opera love child, full of American ‘twang’ and ironic 21st century costume. I am not okay with seeing Mozart’s own personal flute through his skinny jeans, however magical.

Thankfully this was not the case. Described as ‘part-pantomime, part-opera’, Kit Hesketh-Harvey has created an extremely enjoyable new take on the classic ‘Singspiel’ piece, which is undeniably reminiscent of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas of the late 1800s.  This new angle places Mozart actually in the centre of the production. Showing his struggle writing the opera up until his death, he and his librettist Eugene Schikaneder become the Prince and his companion setting out to free the Princess Pamina from the evil Monostatos. Really, making the action ever-so panto-esque makes a lot of sense, as the whole premise is identical to any Snow White/Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella that pops up over the festive period.

The Magic Flute Riverside Studios BargainTheatreland Review 2Interweaving the actual with the fictional never feels jolted. In fact having some of the opera’s scenes playout within the scene of Mozart writing them is genius, adding layers of understanding to the piece and making it much more accessible to all audience members.  Lawrence Olsworth-Peter was a believably weakening Mozart and handsomely dashing Prince with a listenable voice. Daisy Brown played a nice Pamina, and Gemma Morsley would’ve been a wonderful narrator, if only her gurning hadn’t taken away from her performance. Papageno, the Prince’s companion, is virtually the lead of the whole thing and casting James Harrison as the lumbering, loveable lummox was nothing short of genius. He has a brilliant stage presence, a knack for comedy and a voice you could swim in. Add in enjoyable turns from Fleur de Bray as the Queen and Kristin Finnigan as one of the fate like ladies, this is a well rounded and majoritively young cast.

As is also becoming exceptionally fashionable in modern day theatre, the 5 piece band were onstage throughout. Used to great effect, the band never got in the way, but became involved when appropriate. If a flortist were ever to be singled out for attention, The Magic Flute is the ideal place to do it.

Well directed, well cast and well performed, The Magic Flute is a rousing success. I have seen far too many adaptations of classic pieces in recent times which have tried too hard to be edgy, modern and ‘out there’. The Merry Opera Company have delivered a satisfying interpretation which stays true enough to the original to keep connoisseurs smiling and accessible enough to entice relative newbies. Interestingly, the production is a double cast one. I would be very intrigued as to whether the alternate cast can portray the classical modernity which this piece has, as well as this one did.

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Reviewed 07/02/13

By Tom Norman

5th Feb – 3rd Mar 2013
Riverside Studios
London, W6.

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