Friday, August 03, 2007
A Confusing Carmen
My week has continued in a pleasantly South Bank-y fashion. Not the National this time, but the Royal Festival Hall, where Jude Kelly is staging Oscar Hammerstein’s Carmen Jones as her big “hello, we’re open again,” show.
The results are muddled to say the least. For a start, the setting has been twiddled with: Hammerstein's original Broadway production relocated the Carmen story to a parachute factory in the US, but Kelly has uprooted it again, swapping this Deep South setting for a vaguely Cuban-looking backdrop. For, um, reasons that never become clear. All that this change of location achieves is that it makes the piece feel rather unanchored and uncertain of itself. The set is also an oddity, sitting awkwardly in the middle of the RFH stage, with the wooden back wall of the hall very visible behind it.
The amplification was all over the place too, making it hard to decipher a lot of dialogue, and, well, I could list more little niggly negatives, but actually the show wasn’t as unsatisfying as I’m making it sound. Though the first half is distinctly shaky, the production was far more cohesive and compelling after the interval. The orchestra were excellent (Kelly has plonked them in a pit in the centre of the stage with the action playing out both behind and in front of them) and there were some standout moments, most notably that of Beat Out Dat Rhythm On a Drum.
Performance-wise there are some excellent voices amongst the large cast. But it’s impossible not to notice that both Tsakane Valentine Maswanganyi, as the volatile Carmen, and Andrew Clarke, as Joe, the man she seduces, are eclipsed in terms of charisma and presence by, respectively, Sherry Boone, who plays the heartbroken Cindy Lou, and Rodney Clarke, as the boxing champion Husky Miller. Indeed the only truly bravo-worthy episode of the evening was when Boone sang My Joe, a quiveringly beautiful lament to her one-time lover; it was a quite, quite wonderful moment.