Capitalism Gored In Carmen Disruption
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
Simon Stephens' new play is a 'reimagining' of Bizet's seminal opera, Carmen. But in the loosest sense. The fiery tale of love and lust provides a conceptual framework for the piece, but we're a long way from a simple reworking of the story. Instead, what we have is a sometimes confusing yet compelling tale of urban isolation and the emotional abandonment of modern city living.
This is a play about loneliness, about the dejected and disaffected victims of the city. It's about our over-reliance on social media — how virtual connection has inspired actual disconnection. And it's about the anonymous uniformity of many modern European cities — the identikit hotels, offices, cafes and so on that are robbing cities of their distinguishing traits.
These themes are brought to life by five characters, each going through their own emotional breakdown through the course of one day in an unnamed European city. We have a narcissistic rent boy who shags his way from one client to the next but ultimately just wants to be loved, a teenage student who is suicidal after a nasty break-up, a mother who pines for the son that barely speaks to her, a trader who has a meltdown after a close financial shave, and an opera singer who is in the city to play the role of Carmen for the umpteenth time.
The characters skirt the stage, circling the body of an enormous dying bull — a nod to Escamillo, the bull fighter in Bizet's opera, but also presumably a statement of some sort about the dying days of capitalism. Each character tells their story through a series of semi-poetic monologues, but it's the singer who weaves Carmen into the piece, seeing the characters of the opera she's about to perform in the people around her on the streets: Carmen is the rent boy, she tells the audience; Don José is the mother; Escamillo is the trader; and Micaëla is the student.
If it sounds a little hard to get your head around, that's a pretty fair reading of it. Throw in vocal interludes by an actual opera singer and several moments of conceptual synchronised movement, and you've got a production that is hard to follow and hard to sum up but also very hard to forget.
The key here is how relatable it all is. The characters, like the themes, are deeply familiar and impeccably well-drawn: all loveless husks of humanity but ones we know so well, whose sad stories engross us because they ring so true. Superbly performed by an excellent cast, Stephens' play tickles our voyeuristic urges like a collection of Evening Standard stories brought to life. The use of Carmen adds a beguiling edge, but at its heart this is a hauntingly powerful piece of very modern storytelling.
By Dan Frost
Last Updated 21 April 2015