“I’m at the theatre. There is an inflatable dinosaur”
“Are you ok? Do you know what month it is? Or the current monarch?”
Thus, the WhatsApp exchange between myself and a friend kicked off my Sunday night. The stage is set, a picture of modern suburbia with five – yes five – sofas planted for cast and chorus to observe and be observed from. Incongruous and never really explained is the rampaging inflatable dinosaur, who I was sad to note did not make another appearance further down the line.
Highbury Opera Theatre present The Weekend – an operatic adaptation of Michael Palin’s 1994 play which charts the eventful Saturday of Stephen Feeble. Torn from his morning newspaper by the unwelcome news that his daughter will be visiting with her trying husband, uncommunicative teenage daughter and shamed family dog, and that they will that evening be hosting a village cocktail party, we can see early on that Stephen is a man on the edge. Adrian Thompson delivers a superb performance as the curmudgeonly but ultimately loveable patriarch, who takes to hosting a gossipy neighbourhood soiree with all the charm and good humour of a bear awoken early from hibernation. Kathy Taylor-Jones as his long-suffering wife Virginia was a standout for me, working to keep everything on track domestically and socially in the most challenging of circumstances with a thoroughly enjoyable vocal performance throughout.
In crafting the libretto, Tamsin Collison has developed a hugely impressive, humorous and succinct telling of the original play, capturing the highs and the lows of family life, and allowing the central characters to shine. There’s real pleasure in the absurdity of a medium as full of pomp and drama as an opera depicting the mundane and typical, with numbers dedicated to topics such as motorway traffic and local council planning issues. The music from Scott Stroman is a delight and the orchestra is outstanding; I could have listened to them all night.
The wider chorus and some of the choreography didn’t always come off for me, there was something a little lacklustre about it at times, and I wanted to see more of some of the less central characters whose subplots aren’t fully explored. I also found myself wishing that I’d come to this having seen the original play in its entirety. I’ve no doubt that here Highbury Opera Theatre has pulled off a very challenging feat and brought something completely new to an old favourite, but I suspect that much of what I found charming and interesting about the plot and characters might be explored further in a straight performance, which deals with issues that still feel current nearly 30 years after it was first performed.
Overall, still a fun night out at the Bloomsbury Theatre.
Reviewer: Zoё Meeres
Reviewed: 26th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★