The queue wound its way from the Hammersmith Apollo right down to the Riverside Studios. That’s a long way and could have been bad news as we only had ten minutes before the play started. Luckily it was heading towards the Apollo and we were going the other way. The Apollo was hosting something quite popular called Britain’s Got Talent. We were going to the Riverside Studios to see the newly-commissioned romantic comedy Kiss me, Figaro! written and directed by Honorary Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, John Ramster and performed by the Merry Opera Company. In a few weeks it might well have the mile-long queues – and Simon Cowell begging to put it on TV.
The name of the play gives an indication of the mashup musical style. It starts and ends with Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, but for the two hours in-between skips through the music of Handel, Puccini, Irving Berlin and many more. Purists who only listen to operas all the way through and never listen to a classic aria out of context may struggle – though there are plenty of operatic jokes for their benefit – but for the rest of us Kiss me, Figaro! is an amusing skip through several favourites of opera and musical theatre, bound together in an amusing new narrative. If you already like opera then you’ll recognise the music and plots that thread through the play, linking the current action with that of the operatic extracts. If you’re new to opera then this is your chance to discover its beauty in the relaxed atmosphere of the Riverside Studios. If you end up at the Royal Opera House next weekend you’ll have the Merry Opera Company to thank.
We are backstage at an opera company, amongst the relationships and passions of artists putting on La Boheme. Imagine a romcom film that makes you laugh, with delightful singing and added operatic flourishes. The plot is slight but humorous, bringing together right from the start – or straight after the unusual acapella Figaro Overture – ex-couple Joe and Daisy, to play Opera’s great lovers Rodolpho and Mimi from La Boheme. This background knowledge that the actors are ex-lovers (and not getting on) gives the well-known operatic scene a new reading and brings humour to the words and actions. Recent graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Daisy Brown plays Daisy with venom and real vocal expression. Joe Morgan is charmingly forgivable as one of life’s loafers, a man whose foibles are tolerated owing to his powerful vocal talents.
Music director and pianist Steven Hose provides energetic musical accompaniment for the entire two hour show, having arranged the music to suit the cast of nine, all of which contribute to the fun of the evening. James Harrison is particularly impressive whilst Kristin Finnigan adds a nice line in droll delivery and Matthew Quirk brings a fearless humour – once you have seen him in fishnet stockings the world will hold fewer fears.
For years film copied the techniques of theatre, but here there are borrowings from film. Scenes begin with titles scrolling across the stage (or more exactly carried by actors across the stage, but the effect is the same). Hence we learn we are now Two days later or At the rehearsals of another production. There are even flashbacks to episodes in the past, with Daisy’s voice-overs explaining her feelings as though we are watching a film. The set is simple but works well. Clever use is made of two red curtains, which are turned round to face the audience or the back-wall as an easy short-hand to tell us whether we are watching one of the company’s performances or are behind the scenes. Cast members not currently on stage watch from the wings, reading books or playing with their phones. Those on stage entertain with versatile voices that perform the operatic classics and dance numbers. All is accomplished with aplomb and whether you want to hear great singing or laugh at the shenanigans you will have a good evening.
It’s odd what you learn at the theatre. Having seeing this production I now know the frightening fact that somewhere in England there is a shop that sells girls’ pleated grey school dresses in sizes big enough to fit strapping six-footers. (Ideal for a zombie-themed production of The Mikado – the love of directors for unusual interpretations of classics is gently spoofed).
Kiss me, Figaro! has none of the pretension that sometimes puts people off opera. It has all the humour of a well-oiled cast (I don’t mean alcoholically) and an amusing script. It updates the plots beloved of Opera for a modern audience and shows that love and jealousy remain as relevant today as when Mozart and co were at work.