There are always famous pieces of classical music one recognises but can’t quite identify. I went into the Arts Centre theatre knowing absolutely nothing about Die Fledermaus – or thinking I knew nothing. But as the band struck up the overture, the familiar jolly overtones of Strauss’ waltz resounded throughout the room as the audience geared up for a night of farcical frivolity.
Gabriel von Eisenstein (Ross Kelly) is bound for prison, but his wealth and status afford him one night away to attend the party of the year, as Alfred (Florian Panzieri), his rival for the affections of his wife Rosalinda (Ellie Popham), is mistakenly imprisoned instead. But the plan quickly unravels as first Eisenstein’s maid Adele (Natasha Agarwal) and then his wife show up at the party, and chaos ensues in a performance riddled with playful (yet vocally challenging) arias and rollicking oompah.
the familiar jolly overtones of Strauss’ waltz resounded throughout the room as the audience geared up for a night of farcical frivolity
Director Josh Dixon’s original translation of this operetta draws out the melodramatic humour inherent in the piece as rich hedonists Eisenstein and his friend Dr. Falke (Cole Mclaren-Bailey) kick off the party in style. Dixon has chosen to set his version in Thatcher’s Britain to exaggerate class tensions, a decision that works well in hinting at the more sinister implications of the setting.
Having performed as Macheath in OpWa’s The Threepenny Opera last year, Dixon is clearly familiar with Brechtian style, and employs metatheatre to great effect: constant self-conscious references to the operatic style drew laugh after laugh from the audience and were almost never convoluted or forced.
The same could not be said, sadly, for the opening of the second act; Mike Lyle’s Frosch is slow and awkward, which caused the pace and energy of the piece to drop sharply. I’m all for audience participation, but this could have been coordinated a little more effectively and taken up less time, as it seemed to not add much to the plot or the rest of the production. Similarly, the fight scenes were a little sloppy and could have been more tightly synchronised to match the music.
Dixon is clearly familiar with Brechtian style and employs metatheatre to great effect, drawing laugh after laugh from the audience
Nevertheless, these detracted only slightly from the overall joy with which everyone left the theatre. Conductor Paul McGrath leads the orchestra with ease and energy, while the cast have obviously bonded with each other: from the chemistry between Rosalinda and Alfred and the ‘bromance’ that Eisenstein and Falke shared, to the seamless support from the chorus, this really is a team production. Ellie Popham sparkles as Rosalinda, especially her long aria in the second act as the ‘Hungarian countess’, but special mention must also go to Ellie Sterland as Prince Orlofsky and Michael Green as Frank, who provided humour and character with wonderful voices.
By the time the fantastical and slightly confusing plot twist is revealed at the end, the audience has learned to ‘not even question the plot at this point’, as Frank says – everything is taken in good spirit, in contrast to the bizarrely solemn thanks Eisenstein offers the audience on the darkened stage before the curtain call. Funny and accessible, metatheatrical yet oddly immersive at the same time, Dixon and his team have created a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all.