Thomas Isherwood as Mark & Honey Rouhani as Musetta. Photo credit: Scott Rylander
Puccini’s timeless opera La Bohème gets a 21st century upgrade in this production directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher where instead of 1830’s Paris, we’re now in London 2017. Spoilers ahead!
What makes this production exceedingly different to every other La Bohème that I’ve seen is Mimi. Here, Mimi (played phenomenally by Becca Marriott ) is not suffering with tuberculosis and too poor to be able to get the help that she needed to survive, here she is a drug addict, and it is this which really makes every decision made by the characters that much more important, as for me, it changes so much. The final part of the final act, where the other 3 characters decide to pool their money together to buy her drugs for one last hit to help her with her withdrawal pain, so that she can begin her recovery the next day, but overdoses and dies, laying the blame for her death potentially with the three of them (this in itself is a whole conversation over liability!) very painful and in a way, changes the whole concept of the opera but at the same keeps it exactly as it was intended: young people becoming adults through suffering and despair and responsibility. I have to admit, the death of Mimi, partly because of them makes me think a lot more about the opera and the characters than a more traditional Bohème, where it is devastating, but no one’s fault, just fate; here, it could be argued that there is direct culpability which makes this a much more intense and even more tragic Bohème, and exactly how I imagine it would have been written and thought of, if Bohème had been created today. The amount of time I’ve spent writing about it here alone should show you that this Bohème really does do something new.
This production has managed to reduce the number of cast members down to four: Mimi, Ralph, Musetta and Mark. There are two casts and the cast that I had the pleasure of watching were brilliant. Becca Marriott as Mimi has a stunning voice and really gives her all in to her performance, she is a thoroughly modern Mimi and makes no qualms about what she wants, whilst also winning the audience over from the moment that she comes on stage.
Honey Rouhani as Musetta is an utter revelation; her voice and her acting are the most memorable part of the entire opera. The ‘audience participation’ that occurs (instead of having Alcindoro appear in the opera) is fantastic and gave the biggest laughs of the night, with Rouhani being charm and humour personified. This one scene is worth the price of admission alone, utterly extraordinary.
Thomas Isherwood as Mark and Roger Paterson as Ralph were both very good, and, as with Marriott and Rouhani, they ooze charm and captivate from the beginning. Isherwood’s voice is strong and sounds like is at the top of his game; Paterson’s is good, and at times fantastic, it sounds like his voice is still growing, definitely one to watch out for as I think he will just go from strength to strength.
I loved this production of La Bohème, Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Becca Marriott have created something incredibly relevant to today without losing any of the wonder, romance or beauty that was originally intended by Puccini, Illica and Giacosa. All four singers were fantastic with Rouhani, and her character Musetta being the absolute star of the show in the most memorable Musetta I have ever seen. At first, I felt that the ‘lad’ humour was a bit much and detracted from the opera, however I now appreciate that the humour affords quite a swing between the two halves which is essential with Bohème, the ‘innocent’ to the ‘experienced’. If you have never been to the opera before, or you’ve seen La Bohème more times than you can count, then this is the production for you. It is endlessly entertaining and accessible and it stays with you for a very long time after it has finished, it is that rare beast: memorable for all the right reasons and makes you wonder why more productions can’t be so exciting, insightful and thought provoking. I loved it.