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Belters and bohemians: Opera Locos @Sadlers_wells

At the start of the Opera Locos performance, the announcement says that they really are singing. You could be forgiven for wondering that, given the amplification turns up the backing track and the voices so loud that you can't always tell what's real. But this is a mostly harmless and slightly eccentric blend of opera classics fused with the occasional pop classic. However, recognising the pop tunes would help if you were over a certain age. The most recent of them dates back twenty years. It's currently playing at the Peacock Theatre .  Five performers play out a variety of archetype opera characters. There's the worn-out tenor (Jesús Álvarez), the macho baritone (Enrique Sánchez-Ramos), the eccentric counter-tenor (Michaël Kone), the dreamy soprano (María Rey-Joly) and the wild mezzo-soprano (Mayca Teba). Since my singing days, I haven't recognised these types of performers. However, once, I recall a conductor saying he wanted no mezzo-sopranos singing with the s

The agony and the misogyny: Banging Denmark @finborough

Banging Denmark, the comic play by Van Badham, answers the question, what lengths does a misogynistic pickup artist go to date with a frosty Danish librarian? It may be an uneasy farce given the subject matter, but it is made more palatable by the cast assembled to convince you of it. It's currently having its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre

It opens with Guy DeWitt (Tom Kay) at one end of the stage. His real name is Jake, and he's a part-time podcaster whose expertise is misogyny and playing the role of the pickup artist. That is, someone who attempts to coax women into having sex with a mix of flattery or manipulation. His podcast attracts a variety of involuntarily celibate men (or incels), so call in asking for advice. And while he gives the impression of living the high life, he is in a grimy flat strewn with empty pizza boxes. 

At the other end of the stage is feminist academic Ishtar (Rebecca Blackstone). She lives out of the photocopy room, losing all her money after an online troll sued her for defamation. Their lives come together as Jake seeks her help to get the attention of a Danish librarian he met called Anne (Maja Simonsen). After offering plenty of money, she accepted the challenge without realising that he was the one who sued her in the first instance. 

Ishtar tries to convince him it is a lost cause but appreciates the money anyway. She explains that the woman is from Denmark, and he's from Australia, so their values are very different. Very few Australian or English audiences would necessarily know about Denmark since it rarely features in our news, so it's helpful that the play sets out what these values are.  

But it's the unlikely pairing of a feminist academic and misogynist gives the piece the feel of a screwball comedy, albeit a dark one. One-liners fly throughout the piece in a battle of machismo versus feminist theories and the Dutch social welfare model. For much of the piece, nobody bothers to ask Anne what she wants, and when she eventually expresses interest, it isn't surprising it’s not Jake she’s interested in. 

The play first premiered in Sydney in 2019, and part of the comedy is slightly unnerving, given how things have moved on since then. Social media has become even darker, more aggressive and angrier. Social media content seems designed to serve the most ludicrous conspiracies and conflicts. 

Bearing this in mind, it makes the jokes about women in this post-COVID, post-Sarah Everard, post-Bondi Junction world land uneasily. On the other hand, the cast reveals the characters' vulnerability, making this a less caustic tale than real life. And there is plenty of laughter among the fast pacing and silliness. Even if, at times, it feels more like nervous laughter. 

Directed by Sally Woodcock, Banging Denmark is at the Finborough Theatre until 11 May. 


Photos by Ali Wright

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