Die Fledermaus
Grimeborn 2019

Reviewer's rating

This version of the old Viennese operetta is subtitled The Revenge of the Bat-man. It is charmingly updated to the present day with maids becoming nannies and countesses becoming supermodels. Baseless Fabric, the company behind this transformation, are putting on the show as part of the Grimeborn Festival but are also performing it around South London in a promenade version until 14 August. It’s a bit difficult to imagine a street version but if it is half as funny as the staged version then it will be well worth a visit – check out the Baseless Fabric website for details

The core of the story is unchanged. Falke is determined to get his own back on his friend Eisenstein for a practical joke played on him a few days earlier. This led to Falke finding a record of his drunken behaviour (while dressed in a Batman costume) all over Facebook and Instagram. He persuades Eisenstein to bunk off community service – a penalty for being drunk and disorderly – and go to a party where he will encounter his wife Rosalinde, and the family’s nanny Adele, in disguise. Falke sets up Eisenstein to proposition Rosalinde, who he does not recognise in her wig and sunglasses, masquerading as a supermodel. She extracts an i-phone from her husband which she plans to use to prove his attempted infidelity. At the end all is revealed, all is forgiven, and the whole thing is blamed on an excess of champagne.

The plot is very thin and depends on unlikely failures to recognise family members in flimsy disguises – some elements of the story seem to come straight from Mozart – the disguises from Cosi, the forgiving countess from Figaro. As ever the fun of the piece is in the acting and the singing and the company has assembled a stunning group of acting singers for this production. Aided by the confines of the basement studio at The Arcola, they quickly establish a rapport with their audience and the quality of the singing is hardly compromised at all by the need to hold back the evident power of all four voices. As the resentful wife, Claire Wild is spot-on and her decision to head for Falke’s party is only too believable – as is the quick phone-call to the grandparents to come and babysit! And Abigail Kelly as the nanny pulls off the difficult task of singing some of Adele’s most demanding arias brilliantly while looking entirely relaxed and enjoying her turn as a Rihanna look-alike. David Horton as Eisenstein strikes a suitably randy but dim-witted husband while James McOran-Campbell Plays a Falke who is less vindictive than the usual bat and who is enjoying the fun of the deceptions with relish. The simplification of the party scene plot actually improves the flow of the story and what we lose of the Viennese demi-monde is really not missed.

The three instrumentalists – MD Leo Geyer on bassoon, Henry Rankin on violin and the superb Ilona Suomalainen on an accordion that seems to recapture much of the missing orchestra – give a very respectable account of the stripped back score and the balloons, boxes and appetiser that constitute the entire scenery for the performance are all that is needed. Credit to director Joanna Turner – who also provided the new English libretto – for pulling the comedy together with a light but sure touch. Lots of fun – see it a shopping centre near you if you are lucky enough to be in sunny south London over the next few days.