Opera Review


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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!




OperaUpClose presents


BALLO (A Masked Ball)


in a new English version by Adam Spreadbury-Maher

Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher
With a new orchestration by Luca Tieppo
Musical Director Luca Tieppo
Set Designer Nina Fransson
Costume Designer Jonathan Lipman
Lighting Designer Richard Williamson


King’s Head Theatre

17 April - Saturday 25 May


In a helpful, if intriguing opening, the story which inspired Verdi’s original is literally sketched out on screens for the audience and narrated in a sort-of Swedish accent. Therefore, the tragic love triangle which resulted in the real-life death of King Gustav III of Sweden is fresh in the minds of the King’s Head audience when thrust into a homogeneous flat-pack furniture store on the North Circular Road. Though a serious, ominous thread runs through the plot, this initial factual exhibit gives way to persistently funny melodrama throughout the rest of the show. In spite of a setting that is comically standard, the libretto and performances are anything but. Ballo is a feat of costuming by Jonathan Lipman. The cast parade around in at least five different shades of blue and their uniformed theme stands even in leisure time, whether they choose to spend such time at home or in the Ballo carpark.

Amelia (Laura Hudson) opens the second half with a mesmerising performance dressed like a bag-lady with a dash of furniture-store chic. Such outlandish get-up might distract from a lesser performance, but her vocal prowess is undeniable and most warming in this memorable scene. Such moments of dramatic depth are matched in enjoyment terms by the more absurd, hysterical songs, as when Riccardo (Paul Featherstone) works himself up into a frenzy repeatedly gushing that his number’s blocked when attempting to ascertain his future from a call to apparently psychic Ulrica (Emelie Joenniemi). Riccardo’s smitten assistant Oscar (Alan Richardson) provides a wonderful falsetto which is matched perfectly against any and all of the cast he collaborates with. Sometimes momentarily serious lyrics give way to absurd mash-ups as Abba and Frank Sinatra inspired lines are injected through the songs to hilarious effect.

Dickon Gough as Tom is as shadowy and villainous a character as one could imagine working at Ballo. Skulking around at the back of the stage, often with his biker helmet on, he poses an uneasy presence, always half ridiculous while maintaining a sinister aspect. All parts excepting Tom are played by a rotating cast and given the physical and vocal exertion involved it’s no wonder. The pianist (Ben Woodward) ably carries the entire show, switching to a bashed-up Yamaha keyboard for the main event, the masked ball, essentially a much hyped staff-party in this canny revision. The audience don their card masks and join the party as balloons are shaken about and Oscar and Ulrica kick the party off in a part of the libretto which has been written through collaboration between Adaptor Adam Spreadbury-Maher and the cast themselves.

The main event, a classic hidden-identity affair holds the potential for a second-half of conspiring to culminate in its end goal. There is certainly no lull in drama at the close. While Verdi purists may not be bowled over with this sometimes irreverent but always entertaining revision, every other category of theatre goer from intrepid OperaUpClose enthusiasts to cautious first-timers will undoubtedly be delighted by it.



Box office: 0207 478 0160
King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1QN
Tickets £10 - £25

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