Carmen Disruption

Theatre, Off-West End
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Simon Stephens's reworking of Bizet's 'Carmen' is an urban-set tale of love, jealousy and dreaming.

From Andrew Scott’s doomed rock star in ‘Birdland’ to ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’s autistic Christopher Boone, all of playwright Simon Stephens’s heroes are defined by their hazardous detachment from society.

The prolific writer’s latest work, ‘Carmen Disruption’, takes this to extremes via a series of five interlocking monologues about lost souls drifting through mainland Europe. It was sparked by a fascinating premise: Sebastian Nübling, director of the show’s earlier German premiere, had become obsessed with the lives of top-flight opera stars, who travel the world singing the same part over and over again in different opera houses, with minimal rehearsal or discussion. Stephens responded by writing The Singer (Sharon Small), a mezzo-soprano who criss-crosses Europe playing the title role in Bizet’s ‘Carmen’. Today, she has arrived in an unidentified – maybe even unidentifiable – city to do so again, but something – maybe the unexpected sight of a nice garden in her otherwise identikit digs – will shortly cause her already nebulous sense of self to start unravelling.

It’s endlessly intriguing, and finely-played, but I wish ‘Carmen Disruption’ had fully explored one character over its 90 minutes, not the full sprawl of five. Stephens writes with his usual harsh, chaotic beauty, but the characters feel both familiar and yet under-explored. Much as I enjoyed John Light’s disintegrating alpha male arsehole and Jack Farthing’s shallow, lonely rent boy, you only really sense a greater depth in teenager Micaela, brilliantly played by Katie West as a young woman with a sadness so unfettered and unapologetic it has developed an extraordinary vibrancy.

This is all pussyfooting around Michael Longhurst’s ravishing and intense production: a huge bull carcass lies in the dusky half-light of the stage, and the air is spiked by the strains of mezzo-soprano Viktoria Vizin. Dressed as The Singer’s darker double, she trills out arias and reworded pop songs with malevolent allure. If Stephens’s characters are the product of atomised modern Europe, then Longhurst deftly stages them against a backdrop of the continent’s bloody, romantic old soul. If the writing sometimes treads water, the staging is unforgettable.

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