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Stuart King

Review: THE ELIXIR OF LOVE at The King’s Head

The Elixir of Love So, is a Donizetti-esque fringe version of Elixir of Love (originally L’elisir d’amore) which has been transported from the Basque region of Spain to Barry, South Wales, reason enough to brave a stormy London night?

The short answer, is not really -unless your operatic preference strongly favours the Gilbert & Sullivan end of the spectrum.

There are logistical limitations to producing grand comic opera in small venues - not least the proximity of the audience and the general requirement for overacting, so it was nice to see everyone dialling-down the nonsense in Hannah Noone’s production - doubtless due to her knowledge and experience directing at this small, but always adventurous, venue.

There were some bold choices (liberties taken) with Romano’s original libretto in this new English version by Chris Harris and David Eaton although most have some kind of internal logic given the modern setting. For example: The wealthy landowning soprano role of Adina, retains her name but has become a cafe owner. The baritone Sergeant Belcore who wishes to marry her, has been promoted to Captain Brandon of the Royal Navy about to be posted overseas to fight the Argies in Thatcher’s Falklands debacle.

Less successful is the modernisation of the bass comic part of the itinerant snake oil salesman (who off-loads the elixir of the title to any lovelorn fool) He retains the name of ‘Doctor’ Dulcamara, but he’s dispensing stench-filled aerosol sprays and atomisers rather than concoctions made largely of red wine which accounts for much of the meaningful drunken comedy in the original. Finally, I've no idea why the romantic tenor part of peasant Nemorino who is in love with Adina, has been renamed Nicky!

Poorly rhyming couplets and an unnecessarily strong peppering of expletives added absolutely nothing of value to the production. But the lights were bright (in contrast to the thunderous blackness outside) and Matthew Kellett had a ball dispensing his ludicrous concoctions as Dulcamara - one minute in suit and shades, the next in Bermuda shorts and an “I ♥️ Barry” vest.

Star vocal performance of the evening went to understudy Caroline Taylor as Adina who will surely one day make a marvellous Marschallin in Rosenkavalier.