The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Une Nuit A Paris

Eventually I’ll get around to writing blogs about the last few books I’ve read, Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, Firstborn by Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter and Wiped! by Richard Molesworth. But that’ll have to wait.

Instead today’s blog is on an operetta we went to see on Tuesday, as a belated valentine’s thing (on Monday we went to a thing at the Hunterian where I pickled a plasticine spider and Simon’s dad gave a talk on syphilis). The operetta we went to see was Troy Boy, Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène, with a new book and lyrics by Kit Hesketh-Harvey.

It was absolutely superb. You should all go and see it. It’s updated to a setting in modern Greece but only as a framing device, essentially it’s still the story of Helen being seduced by (or seducing) Paris and leaving her husband Menelaus to go and live with him in Troy. The other characters are Calchas, a cheeky priest, Agamemnon, a pompous idiot, Achilles, a vain poser, and the muscle-headed Ajaxes, here memorably played by one Ajax holding a glove puppet for the other.

Despite being a stripped-down production, the voices were so big the end effect was as impressive as a full-cast show; particularly Rosalind Coad as Helen. In fact, the smaller cast meant it was easier to make out the witty and literate lyrics, which sometimes lose coherence when you have vast choruses belting them out. And whilst I normally find any form of audience participation excruciatingly embarrassing, in this case I can forgive it because, well, it’s one thing to hear an opera singer vocalising away on a distant stage and another to have her belting something out directly at you from a distance of two feet.

If I had to find a criticism, it would be that the book is occasionally too reliant on puns for its humour, which falls flat; I’d say the situation has enough scope for humour coming from the big, silly characters that it doesn’t need to resort to groan-some wordplay. But then, I've written a whole sub-Blackadder sitcom about the Trojan war, I would think that.

Offenbach’s music is more Gilbert & Sullivan than Verdi; the songs are strong, jolly and catchy, full of character and colour. But without that awful smarminess with which Gilbert & Sullivan are indelibly associated, in my mind at least.

Book tickets here.