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Bethnal Green Working Men's Club

Pop-Up Opera’s ‘Mozart Double Bill’ at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club is a refreshingly simple take on ‘Der Schauspieldirektor’ and ‘Bastien und Bastienne’. It’s not often you watch opera accompanied only by a piano, next to a Wall’s ice cream freezer, but this homely and communal pub atmosphere suits the composer’s playful humour in these pieces to a tee.

‘Der Schauspieldirektor’ depicts two leaders, Francesca and Buff, of a struggling opera company as, in an all-too-familiar situation, they must find a way of remaining financially solvent. It seems their ship has come in when Herr Vogelsang turns up with his beloved, Madam Herz, in tow and offers to finance their production of ‘Bastien und Bastienne’ if they cast her. But when the young and ambitious Mademoiselle Silberklang turns up demanding the role of lead soprano, farcical drama ensues, involving comic pieces escalating in pitch as the prima donnas compete for the position. This is a hilarious and bombastic lampoon of the eccentric characters in the arts industry and the financial troubles which affect even genius.

Photo: Robert Workman

‘Bastien und Bastienne’ is not quite as vibrant and consistently comical. The wonderful music takes the fore in this piece where two young lovers seek the advice of the eccentric love guru, Herr Colas, as they attempt to fix their troubled relationship. The kitschy pink set envelops the characters in the huge lit-up heart which forms the backdrop, uniting the two pieces in their presentations of the ridiculous tribulations of love.

The actors form a splendid company, brought together beautifully by Anna Pool’s direction. Hazel McBain as Mademoiselle Silberklang and Sarah Helena Foubert as Madame Herz bring these competingly bombastic characters brilliantly to life, complemented by Wesley Biggs’ and Laura Cheetham’s pantomimic duo as Francesca and Buff. They reprise this dynamism as Colas and Bastienne in ‘Bastien und Bastienne’, while Nick Allen pulls off the contrastingly youthful and sophisticated Bastien and Monsieur Vogelsang with flair.

Photo: Robert Workman

The innovative use of subtitles frames the playful production’s character perfectly – making translational quips, for example, by paraphrasing a portion of Stephanie’s libretto as the jargonised “there’s no ‘I’ in team”. Harry Percival, the Captions Writer, embraces the potential of an element that is not commonly made use of in opera and makes it part of the show, rather than simply an aid for the linguistically-challenged.

I had not anticipated belly-laughing to Mozart’s music. But as I sat watching the audience clustered round cabaret tables sipping beer, I reflected that this was, perhaps unexpectedly, the perfect setting for these pieces that had come from the truly infantile humour of one who composed a canon called ‘Leck mich im Arsch’ (Lick me in the Arse). Pop-Up Opera dash the elitism that so often accompanies the genre, staging an accessible and universally entertaining evening of Mozart.

  • Opera
  • Directed by Anna Pool
  • Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Cast includes: Laura Cheetham, Nick Allen, Wesley Biggs, Sarah Helena Foubert, Hazel McBain
  • Bethnal Green Working Men's Club
  • Until 29th July 2018

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