7 September 2013

Tosca at the Soho Theatre

Soho Theatre is one of those cosy places that does lots of interesting shows and I am always embarrassed that I do not get there more often.

Not working in London for the last couple of years has not helped.

The irresistible pull this time was the promise of an updated and intimate version of the legendary Tosca.

I mistimed my arrival slightly and there was no time for a beer before the show as I had to go straight in to claim a front-row seat. Luckily there was an interval.

The setting was moved to East Germany in the days just before the Wall came tumbling down and the plot revolved around dissidents (firm and casual) and the Stasi out to catch them. Tosca was a singer who was in love with a casual dissident whose friend was a firm dissident who had just escaped from prison.

The first person we meet is a lazy cleaner and I was relieved to hear him sing in English and delighted by the quality of his voice. The rest of the small cast were equally sweet and clear and that made the plot easy to follow and Puccini's music a rich pleasure despite the even smaller band of three musicians.

The adaptation was excellent playing nicely on the events of the time, the East German leader Erich Honecker resigns towards the end of the opera, and that gave the menace real force.

The other themes were strong too and we were caught up in the lives of all the people, their relationships, hopes and desperation. Even the treachery was easily forgiven because we understood why it had been done.

A good sign of the conviction of the story and the characters is when the baddies get cheerfully booed in the curtain calls, as they did here.

The staging was spot-on too and I was seriously impressed that they managed to find such convincing props. I worked in Czechoslovakia not longer after this, in 1992, and can vouch for the accuracy of the dull grey suits etc.

I had not seen Tosca before, except many years ago on TV, and while I knew the basic of the plot I did not know the details but I suspect that one of the main elements was changed here and there may have been more people alive at the end than usual. It was not a happy ending though and Tosca got her big moment at the end.

It was easy to see what OperaUpClose were trying to do with this production because it all worked and worked very well. I loved it to bits.

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