The Almeida's performance space has once again undergone a transformation this time to host Simon Stephen's new play Carmen Disruption.
Stalls ticket holders enter via the back of the stage, crossing a performance space strewn with rubble, a faded, red-velvet theatre seat and a bull which lies prone but breathing*. Two musicians play. The circle balconies take on the appearance of a faded, grand old theatre all reds and gold and on the brick wall at the back of the stage there is subtitle screen.
The names of characters from Bizet's famous opera are borrowed for four of the characters and together with 'The Singer' are connected only by geography, they all happen to be in the square in front of the opera house in Seville at the same time. Other links with the opera are thematic and musical rather than narrative or at least it appeared to me with my basic knowledge of the story.
There are two Carmens; one for appearances in the form of Victoria Vizin, who with the two musicians, acts as chorus and another who is a rent boy played by Jack Farthing.
Each of the characters tells snatches of their story. Carmen, for example, describes getting ready and going out on a 'date' which doesn't end well. Micaela (Katie West) has to dash across town to deliver an essay and recounts the sorry tale of a failed love affair. Don Jose (Noma Dumezweni) is a taxi driver with tough connections and a grim job to do and Escamillio (John Light) is a global trader pulling off a huge deal. The Singer (Sharon Small) is losing all sense of her self and seeks connection in the streets.
It is a play of atmosphere and impressions rather than simply plot. Where it succeeds is in being deeply sensual, passionate, brooding, rich and dark. The writing is at times poetic and its content grim as if Stephen's has lifted a stone and let selfishness, narcissism, neediness, lust and greed crawl out. And yet it is done with a dark beauty and with occasional wit and humour.
It is a play that bears reflection but won't necessarily yield any satisfying conclusions. It is also a play of performances with Jack Farthing** and Katie West particularly standing out but then theirs are the best stories which probably helps.
Carmen Disruption is a bold piece and I'm sure it will be one that divides opinion. It runs at the Almeida Theatre until May 23 and is an hour and forty minutes straight through.
* The breath bull freaked me because it looked so life like. I wanted one of the cast to stroke it; I wanted to stroke it.
** Jack Farthing made me want to be a boy.
I could easily go for Simon Stephens as he's worked with Mr W's friend and acting buddy Andrew Scott (my reviews for Seawall and Birdland) but that would be easy so I'm going to go for Katie West who played Ophelia to Maxine Peake's Hamlet - Maxine appeared with Mr W in Leaves of Glass.