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TOSCA – Soho Theatre, London.

tosca, soho theatreThere is some relieved satisfaction to be gained when viewing an opera in a scaled back English translation, instead of in its traditional Italian libretto. If unfamiliar with the plot there are no elements of confusion or mix-ups with interpretation and it gives the viewer licence to absorb the action, not hurriedly decipher. This new English version by Adam Spreadbury-Maher condenses the piece from five to three acts and displaces its origins in Rome, setting it instead in East Germany in the 1980s.

Act 1 starts and ends rather slowly, focusing a lot of time on setting up the situation and not enough time on action. Happily, the acts are spaced out nicely so just as I found myself losing focus, the interval arrived and seemed to invigorate both audience and cast. On return to Act 2, the atmosphere had changed wholly and we finally see some of the dramatic force that Tosca is known for delivering. At times alarming and gasp-inducing, James Harrison’s ‘baddie’, Scarpia and Becca Marriot’s troubled Tosca excel in their partnership and convey a disturbingly real representation of the effects of sadistic power on the weak and desperate.

The orchestration at times seems underwhelming, not in composition but in its need for amplification. More volume and heavier bass would have been my preference. The neat three-piece (piano, clarinet and cello) are haphazardly placed at the back of the room and altogether too far away from the audience to encourage any kind of connection to the music. A shame really, as the three musicians are noticeably in tune with each other and capably accessorize the narrative with some lovely sounds.

Harrison adds some much needed vocal gravitas to the ensemble, with an elegant and accomplished baritone that’s pleasingly overwhelming.  Steven East’s Caretaker is charming in his dowdiness, who is able to capture the eye and the ear more capably than the leading man, who sadly doesn’t quite match up to expectations. Edward Hughes hits all the right notes and delivers the lines almost convincingly, but he plays Cavaradisso as a likeable yet bumbling fool, with no sign of the sexual magnetism that Tosca is supposedly passionately attracted to.

Tosca has its high points but all in all I found it a rather hurried interpretation that seemed to focus more on ineffective silences than on the compelling thriller-esque action that Puccini penned.

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Reviewed 20/08/13

By Caroline Cronin

14th Aug – 15th Sep 2013
Soho Theatre, London, W1.

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