Reach For The Star: A Shining Review For L’Étoile
When it emerged that one of the world’s biggest companies had hired a young and almost completely inexperienced guy for their latest effort, many were perturbed. But Chris Addison proves them wrong in Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile which has opened at the Royal Opera House.
The comedian — known for his role in The Thick Of It — plays Smith, a role which fits his acting and stand-up talents like a glove. It involves, after all, the kind of zany and bizarre plot that would turn Malcolm Tucker into a mute pile of flailing eyebrows.
King Ouf is in disguise and out and about amongst his populace. He is looking to celebrate his name day in the traditional fashion, namely impaling someone disagreeable to death. Entering the fray are an ambassador with a ridiculous name which translates as Hedgehog of Porcupine, his wife, his assistant (and his wife’s amant) and a princess who will be married off to Ouf. Entering Ouf’s realm disguised as the least likely department store staff since Are You Being Served?, they encounter Lazuli, a pedlar who falls in love with the princess but is later lined up as the king’s next victim.
Along the way, there are many priceless moments. Kate Lindsey stands out in her turn as Lazuli; her singing on O petite étoile, where Lazuli thanks his lucky star is especially poignant. Ouf’s Couplets de pal (describing his penchant for impaling) is the perfect introduction to this opera’s dark humour.
If you suspect that this isn’t a grand scale weepie, you suspect right. This production may not boast the finest arias or music but it is a joy from soup to nuts. The acting across the cast raises the laugh levels as does a set inspired by Terry Gilliam’s work for Monty Python. The addition of many modern references — including verbal nods to the Mayor of London and the capital’s most famous consulting detective — gives L’Étoile unexpected twists when they are least expected.
On the same night that Addison popped his opera cherry, director Mariame Clement opened her account in Covent Garden and conductor Mark Elder celebrated 40 years of waving a baton for the Royal Opera House. This low-profile and laudable production may yet lay the groundwork for more milestones yet.
L’Étoile is on at the Royal Opera House, Bow Street, WC2E 9DD, until 24 February. Tickets are £22-110. Londonist attended on a press ticket.
Last Updated 04 February 2016