Kit Hesketh-Harvey's playful and ingenious new English version of Mozart's fairytale opera is a delight. Directing his own libretto for nimble young company Merry Opera, Hesketh-Harvey (best-known as one half of former double act Kit and the Widow) has come up with the clever ploy of weaving the last stages of the composer's life into the action of the opera. So, the mortally ill Mozart's fevered imagination casts himself as princely hero Tamino (Lawrence Olsworth-Peter), and his wife, Constanze, becomes heroine Pamina (Daisy Brown).
The conceit intersects neatly with history at a number of points. Viennese music-hall impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, Mozart's friend and fellow freemason, originally sang the role of bird-catcher Papageno (James Harrison) and Mozart's sister-in-law Josepha Weber was the first Queen of the Night (Fleur de Bray). But you don't need to have studied Mozart's biography to enjoy this 'Magic Flute'. Hesketh-Harvey's lively staging gives the performers ample opportunity to play up the opera's pantomimic qualities. Even a dash of thigh slapping and the odd call of 'It's behind you' doesn't seem out of place.
Supported on stage by a five-strong band, led from the keyboard by Stephen Hose, the singers are doubling up parts during the course of the show's run and not every role is a perfect fit. But James Harrison's expressive Papageno and Daisy Brown's ravishingly sung Pamina stood out, as did Fleur de Bray, hurling herself into the Queen of the Night's scintillating coloratura with breakneck courage.
'The Magic Flute' runs until Mar 3 2013.