Saturday, 18 April 2015

Theatre: Carmen Disruption, Almeida Theatre

A note from Joelle... 
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Who?
Creative team:
Michael Longhurst  Director
Simon Stephens - Writer
Lizzie Clachan - Design
Jack Knowles - Lighting

Cast:
Sharon Small - The Singer
Noma Dumezweni - Don Jose (now a female cab driver)
Jack Farthing - Carmen (yes, Carmen's a bloke in this play)
Katie West - Micaëla
Viktoria Vizin - Chorus
John Light - Escamillo

Where? Almeida Theatre, North London
What?
So I'm that guy who mainly goes to see glossy West End musicals, with great dance numbers and jazz hands. But last Friday, I took myself up to North London's Almeida Theatre for an experience like no other. There was so much buzz around Stephen Simon's Carmen Disruption in the weeks leading up to the opening night of previews, so I needed to see what all the fuss is about.
I like going to shows that I know nothing about. I don't research anything, because I want to see it fresh and live, without anyone else's opinions already in my brain.

Upon arrival, I thought it would be a modern take on Bizet's 'Carmen', which I've been a fan of for years and years. If you're unfamiliar with the opera, let me break it down for you real quick:
Carmen is a set in Seville, Spain and tells the story of a Gypsy woman who works in a cigarette factory. She likes an Officer called Don Jose, but he pies her off at the beginning, but then falls in love with her (even though his mum wants him to marry some girl named Micaëla. Don Jose ends up in prison for letting Carmen escape after she attacks a co-worker in the factory. Don Jose is released a few months later and gets back together with Carmen, but she then pies him off.
She then falls in love with bullfighter, Escamillo and things get a bit awks from then on. In the end Don Jose stabs her and she slowly dies. Lovely. 
There are some great  arias that you've probably already heard, like this one and this one.

So I took my seat and watched the rest of the audience pile into the theatre below me (I was in a rather nice red velvet box with a plug to charge my dying phone**). I quickly noticed two things: 
The audience come through the stage entrance of the theatre and walk over the debris-filled stage to get to their seats. On the way, they pass the actors getting ready for the performance (pretty cool).
The a bloody massive animatronic bull on the stage. And if you look closely, it's actually breathing. (*applauds the creative team who made that*)

Anyway, onto the play...
It's a series of interwoven monologues and each character takes it in turn to talk. At the beginning of the play the monologues are long and full of questions. I noticed as the drama builds up (I'm not going to reveal the plot, sorry), the monologues get shorter, louder and more snappy.
Basically Simon Stephens has taken Bizet's Carmen, disrupted the shit out of it... and it's brilliant.
The characters have the same names in the play and some of their traits are similar also (e.g. Carmen is still flirtatious and at times, violent). But now, Escamillo is a stockbroker in some deep water. Don Jose is a taxi driver with family issues. Micaëla is a suicidal student who is going through heartbreak and making some pretty bad decisions. The Chorus is just one Mezzo-soprano, with an incredible voice. She sings, mostly in French but then hints at a little English in an adapted version of the HabaneraThe Singer is a woman who mirrors The Chorus in a way, but fights jet lag and loneliness. She doesn't actually sing in this play, but I think she is an opera singer about to take on the role of Carmen at the opera house.
They all cross paths near an opera theatre, but ultimately conduct their own personal downfalls.
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Carmen is cocky and confident, but ultimately lost in his world of sex work. He tells us about his life as prostitute, his relationship with his mother and even does a slightly awkward stipper dance.
Farthing is brilliant in this role, and seeing as he's done a lot of period stuff, it's great to see him in a modern role (with a great silk shirt).
Dumezweni is great as Don Jose - a cab driver who also does some dodgy odd-jobs. It took me a bit longer to fully appreciate West and Light's characters and to this day, I'm not sure why. They are both desperate - one for love and the other for money.
Not forgetting the two talented cellists who really helped carry the play along. They were excellent too. It's interesting that two cellists were used, in my opinion. Cellos were usually the background instruments in music from the Romantic era, never really carrying the main tunes and getting time in the limelight.
But they can create amazingly eerie distorted sounds that other instruments cannot do, so they were a good fit in this play.

Why?
My take on it is that it's a play about alienation, a sense of loneliness without actually being alone and also our relationship with technology. The characters may all lead different lives, but they all have iPhones. Narcissism, dependency, disconnection from real life, but connected virtually.
Some people feel more themselves online than in real life, and I think that's what Stephens was trying to explore with this project.
Everything is fractured and distorted - even the music and set design (there's a lot of brick/rubble on the stage).
So much stuff happens in this play, and I guess every audience member will come away with a unique take on it. I did  see some shocked faces from mature members of the audience during Carmen's opening monologue. Perhaps, like me, they expected this just to be a modern adaptation of the original opera?
At first I found it weird that there was no interval, but then again, why should there be? It's an intense experience for the characters and the actors playing them, so it should be the same for the audience.

I give Carmen Disruption a strong 4/5 - because it was stunning. It's like nothing I've seen before and that's refreshing. The actors are on point, the cellists are wonderful. It was like a out-of-body experience without the dodgy psychedelics.
At first, it looks and sounds like it's going to be a mess, with too many themes/ideas crammed into 1 1/2 hours. But it works.
If you're in the North London area, I recommend you go see it before the tickets sell out. I'm going for the second time, (#keen) because I don't think I took it all in in just one viewing. I and am hoping to get more out of it next time.
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Carmen Disruption runs until 23th May 2025 and you can get tickets HERE.

*In a play about our obsession with technology, I'm happy that I can charge my iPhone whilst watching this play. I'm an awful human being.

UPDATE: So I took a pal and saw it again last Monday. We had glad seats and the stalls and this time, I saw all the fluid movements and just a lot more than last time in the box. I really really got more out of it the second-time-round.
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