A gritty, contemporary reworking of Bizet’s most famous opera is provided by Simon Stephens in his bleak and strange new take on the original in Carmen Disruption (Almeida Theatre), directed by Michael Longhurst.
Stephens has taken all the main characters from the piece and re-imagined them as unconnected individuals wandering through an unnamed and soulless European city. Carmen, in this version, is a rent boy, whose encounter with a client shifts from rough sex to grisly violence.
Don Jose has been transformed from soldier to black female taxi driver, desperate to see her long abandoned son, and who pays off a debt with some sort of low level criminal activity. Escamillo, originally the toreador who entices Carmen away from Don Jose becomes an arrogant investment banker sweating over lost millions. And village-maiden Micaela is now a teenage student, broken-hearted from splitting up with her older lover, a faithless porn-addicted professor. Added to this is the figure of the singer, an opera star who becomes entangled in the life on the streets.
These are lonely souls, yearning for love, home, a sense of self belief and real contact in an age of impersonal, digital communication and narcissistic, illusory identities.
While Stephens manages to create a timely sense of a modern malaise, reinforced by the rubble strewn set, possibly symbolising the last gasps of a crumbling Europe, and with a full-sized bull lying prone in the centre of the stage and seeming to slow-breathe before finally expiring, the play lacks the passion and beauty of the original. Stephens’s aim here was presumably to explore the possibility of finding love in a fractured urban world, yet all too often the production seems unfocussed imparting some interesting reflections but unable to harness them into a satisfactory whole.
Longhurst elicits committed performances from his cast, of whom Jack Farthing as the modern day Carmen, Sharon Small as the rootless opera star and international mezzo soprano Viktoria Vizin as the chorus, who haunts the action and bursts into arias from the opera accompanied by two onstage cellists as well as providing the only link with the gypsy original stand out.
This then is a show which despite all its laudable ambition and insights into human nature remains resolutely uninvolving.
Runs at the Almeida Theatre until Saturday 23 May 2015
Box office: 020 7359 4404Last modified: June 9, 2021