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Review: The Marriage of Figaro, Newcastle Theatre Royal

Opera North's new production of a Mozart favourite is sung in English and has shades of Downton Abbey

***
Clive Barda Left to right: Doctor Bartolo - Henry Waddington, Marcellina - Gaynor Keeble, Don Basilio - Joseph Shovelton, Count Almaviva - Quirijn de Lang
Left to right: Doctor Bartolo - Henry Waddington, Marcellina - Gaynor Keeble, Don Basilio - Joseph Shovelton, Count Almaviva - Quirijn de Lang

This fresh new English translation of Mozart’s comic classic (and yes, they do rhyme “Cupid” with “stupid”) buffs up the humour and cleverly concocts a Downton Abbey setting where shenanigans above and below stairs meet in a slightly decaying country house.

Taking it a step further, we are invited to see the sets for what they are, theatrical devices with all those doors the characters need to nip in and out of, rather like the deconstruction of classic farce in Noises Off.

This makes the audience complicit in the jokes and allows the singers to play outrageously to type, especially in the case of Quirjin de Lang’s Count Almaviva, the perfectly elegant, moustachioed, aristocratic cad.

Richard Burkhard’s Figaro came across as a natural fixer, an excellent match for Silvia Moi’s self-possessed Susanna, a girl with her tongue in her cheek and a trick up her sleeve.

Clive Barda Countess Almaviva - Ana Maria Labin

The character of the Countess can often stand aloof from the games and deceptions woven around her, isolated by her love for an unfaithful husband.

Ana Maria Labin’s interpretation felt younger, playful and resourceful yet still expressing to the full the pain of rejection.

Her responses to the adolescent page Cherubino (Helen Sherman), all awkwardness and ardour, hinted that even a neglected Countess might be surprisingly susceptible.

The excellent comic playing of Gaynor Keeble as Figaro’s matronly admirer and Jeremy Peaker as a plain-spoken gardener made the most of some laugh-out-loud lines.

One big criticism, though, must be that at moments the complex set pushed all the action to one side of the stage, leaving a considerable portion of the audience (and not just those in the restricted view seats) unable to see what was happening.

That’s way too high a price to pay for even the cleverest staging.

The second and last performance here is on Saturday evening

Gail-Nina Anderson

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