Theatre: Some harm in Carmen reworking

Written By: William Russell
Published: February 24, 2018 Last modified: February 24, 2018

Carmen – 1808

The Union Theatre, London



Director Phil Willmott has taken Bizet’s opera Carmen and turned it into a musical set during the Peninsular War inspired by Goya’s famous painting of the young man facing a firing square and the current unrest over Catalonian independence.

It is the second in a three-play season he has directing of past works which have relevance to today, the first being Heartbreak House with The Cherry Orchard yet to come.

Carmen in this tale becomes a resistance fighter who seduces army officers to help the cause with what she discovers. It is a reasonable plot, but Willmott has not managed to create a cohesive story line and while the cast sing well – Rachel Lea-Gray is a splendid sensual heroine, Maximilian Marston a strapping victim to her charms – the evening ultimately is unsatisfactory although Bizet’s melodies are there to sooth the pain.

Choreographer Adam Haigh could have been told to calm down somewhat as the ensemble are never still and the endless stamping and fan waving and over-acting gets wearisome. Willmott could also have made his cast speak the same English – there is no need for cod Spanish accents but as the sounds of Morningside clash with Estuary English things get terribly confusing. As for the French conquerors they speak ‘allo ‘allo which does not help. The other irksome thing is that while for much of the evening it is just a piano and the occasional guitar, when a big moment comes along over amplified recorded orchestral sound blares out.

One can see what Willmott wanted to do, but whether this work sandwiched by the other two really adds to the debate about the issues of today is open to question.