A stroll along the prom, prom, prom

Beside the seaside: Neal Davies, left, as Don Alfonso in his ringmaster role along with some of the less conventional characters who pop up on the prom in Benjamin Davis' production.

Così fan tutte

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

MOZART'S story of love, testing and betrayal takes a trip to the seaside in this Welsh National Opera production.

And it works very well. By setting the scene in a colourful world of ice cream parlours, funfairs and magic tricks, the fluff takes over so that we forget the rather sordid undertone to the plot.

Here two suitors decide to test the fidelity of their fiancées by courting them in disguise – even pursuing their aim when the women have rebuffed them.

With deckchairs and women in bikini-clad fat suits, Max Jones' set takes on the guise of a picture postcard – one of those saucy double entendre pictures which evoke a nod and a wink but nothing more.

Benjamin Davis' production therefore resembles a cartoon which relies heavily on slapstick. For example the disguised lovers are so ridiculously transformed with false noses and moustaches that their deception becomes little more than a joke, keeping the drama as light as candy floss.

Within this frivolous and slightly surreal setting we can ignore the implausibility of the plot and the meanness inherent in testing out the faithfulness of someone you love.

There are some really lively characterisations here. Máire Flavin is an incredibly winsome Dorabella while Elizabeth Watts is a much more tortured Fiordiligi.

Gary Griffiths as Guglielmo considerers the options with the aid of a quick smoke - with an electronic cigarette for those curious about voice damage. Picture: Catherine Ashmore.

Matching them, Gary Griffiths as Guglielmo and Andrew Tortise as Ferrando switch back and forth between tortured lovers and cunning deceivers. Joanne Boag is a strong Despina with great comic timing – her solo while cleaning the bathroom takes opera into new realms of domesticity. And the spider in the web, Neal Davies as Don Alfonso has just a touch of the diabolic added to his ringmaster role.

There are moments when the production goes just a bit too far and risks making it all just plain silly. While having the characters watching a Punch and Judy show adds a clever touch of irony, having a policeman and crocodile then join the cast simply confuses matters.

But overall this is an imaginative and fun production.

Diane Parkes 

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