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Christmas Mysteries: A Sherlock Carol @MaryleboneTHLDN

A mash-up of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes would seem an unlikely pairing. Yet it provides a surprisingly fun Christmas-themed adventure. These two Victorian tales (albeit separated by about 40 years) provide the basis for an inspired adventure at Christmastime that just also happens to turn out to be a murder mystery as well. With lavish costumes, a few spooky set pieces and some good old-fashioned stage trickery with lights and a lot of smoke machines, it is hard to resist. It returns to the Marylebone Theatre for Christmas after a run there last year.  The premise is that after Holmes sees off the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, he is left adrift in London. People thought he was dead, and he might as well be. Disinterested in the misdeeds of other Londoners, Holmes has even given up on his friend Dr Watson. It's almost as if he has become a Scrooge. Or half a Scrooge, moping about shouting, "bah" in respon

Projection and pop-ups in tight spaces: Don Pasquale

A pub upstairs in Covent Garden is an unlikely setting for an opera, but it is part of Pop-up Opera's plan to stage opera in unlikely places. Arriving just before the proceedings there was nowhere to sit except for a front row of bar stools. Nobody was wanting to sit in the front row possibly anticipating the opera singers standing almost in front and well within deafening earshot, (and having read the publicity that also threatened to engage the audience).

On the plus side I figured these by taking a bar stool those lessons I had been taking on posture and would be put to good practice. And unlike the last time I was at the opera to see Don Carlos, there was no lady next to me insisting I keep my mobile phone and iPad well away from her as she had some psychosomatic reaction to electromagnetic fields (Royal Opera audiences can be funny like that).

Anyway the stools were pretty good to take advantage of all the action that was unfolding right in front of me. But I was not expecting an opera almost in my lap as the singers entered and moved about with barely any space between us. Any closer and you would have been down the throats of the performers.
Don Pasquale is a classic comic opera where an uncle refuses to allow his nephew to marry a woman beneath him so he decides he needs to produce his own heir and seeks advice from his doctor. His doctor thinking that a man of his age is foolish decides to conspire to against Don Pasquale and teach him a lesson. It is all very funny and enjoyable and here is is delivered with panache and style.

Pop-Up Opera is founded by Clementine Lovell. They are a new company that aims to stage opera in the most quirky and unusual venues. They have performed in farms, pubs, barns and churches. The opera is sung in their original language but they adapt the pieces to get a modern twist in them and enlist the audience to participate. For instance Norina (played by founder Clementine Lovell) in a scene where she reflects on how she can charm men, she asked the two men in the front row to take a picture of her with her smartphone. Not ready for such opera engagement I managed to only capture her left breast, but others in the audience were more up for it.

It is a fascinating and civilised way to deconstruct some classic operas and pare down the production to some key essentials. Often with smaller opera productions the singing can be hit and miss but here this was not the case.  Cliff Zammit Stevens as the charming Ernesto, Ricardo Panela as the crafty doctor, Raul Baglietto as the Don and Lovell as Norina - were in fine vocal and dramatic form with the material. Although it was at times difficult to appreciate the musicality in the confined space of the Sun Tavern at Covent Garden. Some of the props and novelties also turn out to be more of a distraction than an addition to proceedings (such as a noisy gun that blows bubbles). But the premise is interesting nonetheless and the format would lend itself well to a staging over a dinner or at corporate events.

As part of their Spring tour 2013 they have been performing L'elisir d'amore and Don Pasquale from 14th April to 12th May. And given the other nights it was at a pub in Highgate and the Brunel Museum I saw it at the most convenient locations, even if it wasn't as impressive as Clearwell Caves, the venue featured in the above production photo.

Their summer tour dates of the shows, Rita and La Serva Padrona include venues on the Isle of Wight and a return to the Brunel Museum and details are listed on their website. A clip from an earlier pop up show featuring Ricardo Panela and Raul Baglietto is also available on Youtube.

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