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Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Pagliacci - Irrational Theatre Company

Irrational Theatre Company
Harpenden Park Hall
10th February 2019

An uplifting touch of small scale opera class


In my younger days, I did have some, I used to go to a lot of opera. Working in London had its compensations and the ENO Coliseum frequently beckoned as a change from my beloved straight theatre. I am no musical purist but boy could that lot sing. Tickets cost a fortune and you occasionally had to draw a veil over some iffy acting, but voices and music from a Verdi and Puccini heaven eclipsed all. Theatre in its purest form and no way could I do it. Which made it all the more enjoyable. Watching skills alien to your own theatrical comfort zone is a special pleasure. Sadly my days in the city of sin and smoke are long over and opera in the sticks are a rarefied beast. Musicals, Webber and Sondheim, abound, but opera is about as rare as turkey twizzlers in Waitrose.
So that is why I take off my extremely tatty old hat, yes I was wearing one, to Irrational Theatre’s small scale production of Leoncavallo’s masterpiece in the equally small scale but packed hall of my local town of Harpenden. A one off performance which gave us seventy five minutes of powerful acting and singing so close you could have re-arranged the buttons on the colourful and clownish costumes. The evening zinged and tingled and all we watchers could, inadequately, say at the end was ta muchly. And come again. You enriched a wet weekend.
Shan’t regale you with too much of the plot. In this Wikipedia age you can look it up for yourselves. Actors playing clowns and, tragically, bringing their real life drama to the stage. All ends in blood and tears. Bit like most operas I suppose, or at least them without consumptive women. But I will regale you with the performances. If they do not earn a living from their singing then this quintet bloody well ought to. Sadly there were no CV’s in the simple programme so I can only guess. Randy Nichol was a mesmerizingly powerful Canio/Pagliacci, he gave us a scorching dramatic rendering of the famous mid act aria, and created a convincingly troubled man you would not want to mess with. Samantha Green in the role of unfaithful Nedda/Columbina was absolutely delightful and coquettish and clearly relished her amorous duplicity in both roles. Katy Bingham Best counterpointed effortlessly as the ugly, unloved, fool and Joao Valido Vaz acted and sang superbly as Peppe/Arlechino. A fun harlequinade character you wanted to wrap in a chocolate box and take home. And rounding it all up was Alejandro Lopez-Montoya’s Silvio/Stage Manager. This baritone had a voice to die for and a presence to match it. Nedda’s lover, stabbed at the end, sadly missed. So I have given you some of the plot whether you wanted it or not.
This superb fivesome were well supported by Gergely Kaposi’s equally first class piano accompaniment, my untrained ear never heard a false note, and Peter Jones’ astute musical direction. I noticed how he cleverly picked up one slightly missed actor’s beat but if there were any others he masked them beautifully. In a performance of clowns that would be appropriate. Paula Chitty, director and designer and costumes amongst everything else, must be well pleased. I know I and my companions were. And one of them so Italian she never once glanced at the subtitles. I did, pedant that I am, but I did not need to. The passion and the power and the music were beautifully displayed. And no more than three feet in front of us. You did not get that at the Coliseum. Roy Hall