La bohème (Abanxaxhi)

Theatre

Classical and opera

Hackney Empire

Until Fri Jun 1 2012

Features_Isango Ensemble at.jpg

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Tony Glazier

This is not the formal Covent Garden version, but an African themed performance by the Isango Ensemble set in a Township with Pauline Malefane as Mimi . The stage is raked at about 1:10 reminiscent of some of the Shakespeare theatres and has a forced perspective. The set is very simple with scaffolding and corrugated iron at the sides and back with just a few old doors and beer crates. The musical instruments are placed on each side of the central elevated stage. Everything in this production is acoustic, no radio mics or loudspeakers anywhere. Just like theatre in 1901 when the Hackney was built. The cast have very powerful voices and easily fill the place with sound. The music is from about nine marimbas, a kind of xylophone with wooden slats, and about fourteen steel pans as used by the Trinadad bands. These produce a surprisingly soft sound and are played by the cast as well as singing and dancing. The dialogue is mostly in english with a little zulu with two well known zulu songs as well. Compared with the Pavarrotti/Contrubas performance at La Scala in 1979 when Mimi finally quietly dies and all hell is let loose, in this production its all rather quiet and they all just walk away. Perhaps such an anticlimax because early death is so common in Africa? Traditional opera is considered rather elitist in the UK but this production is very easily enjoyed and its a pleasure to see how versatile the cast are at playing the music, acting, singing and dancing. Tony Glazier