‘Falstaff’ at St Cuthbert’s Church

☆☆☆☆ – A production with heart and likability.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe encourages its visitors this year to leap ‘into the unknown’, and that is precisely what I was doing as I attended Opera Bohemia’s new production of ‘Falstaff’ on Friday. I am a keen and frequent theatre-goer, but have somehow never made it to the Opera. I’m a little nervous. But after having such an incredible experience at my first ballet a few months ago, I’m excited to explore another new avenue of performance. Falstaff, according to legend and Wikipedia, is a comic opera that is considered both a classic and a staple. Adapted largely from Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, it tells of the thwarted efforts of Sir John Falstaff to seduce two married women in order to gain access to their husband’s wealth. Of course, all the tropes of a good farce follow. Mixed up love letters, pranks, many a bottle of wine, our plump protagonist hiding in a trunk from the aforementioned husbands, before leaping from a window, and all the madness culminating in a raucous comeuppance and a lesson (hopefully) learned. Opera Bohemia are a Scottish touring group who have brought this show to a dozen venues across Scotland before finishing in Edinburgh with a one-off Fringe performance. They describe one of their main aims as a company to introduce opera to new and younger audiences (i.e. Me).

This production transports the story from the reign of Henry IV to the 1970s. The Ford’s Family home, for instance, is styled as House of Ford – a department store that’s very ‘Are You Being Served?’. The result is charming and accessible. Even the slightly awkward and slow scene changes add to the piece – the staging is endearing. For in truth, Falstaff is anything but amateur. The performers and their singing is rich throughout. The acting is very good, which, I am told, is not always a given in opera. Giuseppe Verdi’s fine score is played with energy and precision by a thirteen-piece orchestra conducted by Alistair Digges, and is enhanced by the acoustics of the venue. St. Cuthbert’s Church on the corner of Lothian Road and Prince’s Street. St Cuthbert’s the perfect balance of intimacy and grandeur. Opera Bohemia is clearly a company that understands the importance of just that- company, because there was no weak link, but nor was there shining star drowning out the rest of the performers. ‘Falstaff’ was not extraordinary or defining – it was just…very good. As a first timer, I very much enjoyed it – and the rest of audience appeared to as well. It was considerably better than some of the loftier opera offerings in Edinburgh this month. Extravagant lighting and scenery are sometimes no substitute for heart and likeability – two things that ‘Falstaff’ had in heaps.

Review by Alex Hayward

1930, 24th August at St. Cuthbert’s Church

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