15 Feb

CARMEN 1808 ****

Music by George Bizet arranged by Teddy Clements
Book and Lyrics by Phil Willmott
Adapted from the Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy
Based on the novella by Prosper Merimee

At the Union Theatre.

Phil Willmott has based his musical on a painting by Goya which depicts a massacre – a mess of bloody bodies and a young man with his hands up, terrified as soldiers use their guns on the innocent people. This showed an incident of extreme violence in 1808 when Napoleon was dominating Spain and the Spanish aristocracy had made a treaty with the occupying forces. The Spanish army were in the position to quell any sign of rebellion.

Carmen was working for the revolutionary Catalans. It was a job for her to seduce the soldiers into giving information. The tragedy begins when she meets the officer who falls passionately in love with her and deserts from the Army to work for the Resistance.. For the first time in her life she falls for him, but persuades him to get in touch with his ex fiancee Josephina who is in league with the French and she can leak information to him.

Willmott is experimenting with the popular opera – to make a musical in order to tell a different story involving a piece of actual history.

The story is interesting but of course, nobody can possibly deny that the real star of this production is the wonderful swirling music by Bizet. He is using tunes that everybody know and it creates a feeling of great excitement. Excitement that obviously inspires the 17 strong cast and the choreographer Adam Haigh who makes great use of the youth, and vitality of the cast to produce wonderfully passionate and energetic dance routines.

Alexander Barria sings and plays Goya who narrates the story for us as he makes sketches alongside the happenings on stage.
As Carmen, Rachel Lea-Gray stands out in her scarlet skirt when all the other girls in the cigarette factory wear white. All the ensemble work enormously hard –joining in the songs, singing the accompaniment. It was amusing to hear them do the ba dum, ba dum. during the Habanera.
Maximilian Marston plays Velarde, the Spanish officer who is seduced by Carmen into deserting and joining the resistance and her other lover, the over sexed rogue of a corporal is Thomas Mitchells.There is also an impressive performance from Scottish Actor/ Singer Blair Gibson as the leader of the resistance.

It is always satisfying to see a brand new musical. It is excellently devised and performed. But the plot and performances will always be a little overshadowed by Bizet’s music and Haigh’s magnificent choreography..

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