It’s a weekend night and we’re standing in Heaven cruising the hot bodies on stage and the trendy polysexual crowd below. The only differences from 1987 are that this time we’re not high on a cocktail of coke and poppers, and the music’s by the boy Mozart rather than the Boy George.
It’s only a few days since we were complaining that ‘railway arch opera’ was stuck in a rut, but here it escapes tunnel vision with a compelling and finely-sung production of Don Giovanni, directed at a cracking pace by Dominic Gray.
Where it scores big is in the casting and production values: Duncan Rock isn’t some third-year student from Guildhall in skinny jeans and a sailor tat but has a string of solid opera credentials from Glyndebourne and ENO and his mountainous pecs are candy for the ‘barihunk’ brigade (followers of hotter male singers). Instead of a pub piano there’s a proper 10-piece orchestra suitably string-heavy for the busy Mozart arpeggios, it’s a promenade performance with a main stage and four other set-pieces from Wimpy Bar to sex shop defining the time and place as Soho, 1987.
Best, it has a filthy modern hilarious libretto by Ranjit Bolt that not only hammers home the cruelty and vulgarity – just like the original, really – but makes an easily understandable new story out of the deconstructed and gender-bent opera: apart from the Don all the women’s roles are sung by men and vice-versa, none better than Zoe Bonner’s razor-tongued Leo (Leporello), the PA from hell whose rendition of the 'catalogue aria' enumerating his many conquests from Clapham Common to the club’s own toilets is glorious.
Then there’s the audience – instead of 50 faithful followers in the upstairs room of a pub, we’re a proper club crowd of 400 and, that rare thing in any London audience, smiling throughout. It’s true that even the ENO and the Royal Opera House now take liberties with Don Giovanni, right up to full-frontal nudity and simulated sex, and this production doesn’t go quite so far. But if you want to FEEL liberated, this show charting the ambiguous sexual freedoms of the 80s is for you.
It’s unfortunate that technical issues mean they can’t use radio mikes and the impressive sound (and lighting) rig at Heaven – but the solution is to move round with the characters, maybe a bit of ushering could be introduced, and get as close as you can to the action. It’s worth it.
Written for Londonist and published on 16 April 2012