Madame Butterfly – Kings Head Theatre
You know, this is really rather good. If you’re hoping to match the visuals of the recent ENO production, forget it. The show is in a pub, for Goodness sake. But if you’re willing to see your opera re-imagined, and sung to you in close proximity by talented singers, you’ll probably love it.
However, if you’re part of the cultural relevance backwash, you won’t like the show. You’ll point out no doubt that no cherry trees were used in its making, that Butterfly is played as a bit of a parody in the first act (the whole act is on the manga ‘lite’ side), that she’s not Japanese and nor is anyone else. You’ll probably miss the pathos brought to the second act by the contrast in style – or the fact that it’s the director (Paul Higgins) and production team taking a risk on their vision, not you on your politics.
We find ourselves in a modern Japan with 15 year old Cio Cio San (that was a name in those days) dressed fully Harajuku Girls style – a coy and demure distraction and entertainment for visiting business men – and of course for Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton of the US Navy who happens upon Butterfly through the machinations of the US Consul. And when he sees her, BFP has only one thing in mind – and marriage of course. (Well, she was 15 in the original libretto too)
Lubricated by his friend ‘JD’, Pinkerton weds a happy Cio Cio San much to the disgust of her maid Suzuki – and promptly leaves Japan. Cio Cio San endures 5 years of musically-accompanied waiting, during which time she gives birth to Pinkerton’s son. Eventually Pinkerton returns, but only to humiliate Butterfly with his attendant ‘real American bride’. Shamed, Butterfly kills herself with the very blade that her father had used on himself, and the child faces its future with the US Pinkertons.
There’s a lot to like. Stephanie Edwards as Butterfly is a treat. That girl acts her socks off and sings like a good ‘un, with grace and power. No wonder she has to discretely protect the ears of her son (played poignantly by 7 year old Fabian Micah Firth – and not a marionette, eh ENO?) from the consequences of his close proximity. And I very much hope to come across the gorgeous sound of Holly-Marie Bingham, a wonderfully sullen Suzuki, again.
So if you’re one of those people who complain that trees and not trainees should be used in answer to the drama school exhortation ‘Be a Tree’, stay at home. Your imagination probably can’t take it. And for the rest of us, well, the run is pretty much sold out.
By Chris Parkinson @parkinsontweets