Così fan tutte at London Coliseum – Review – ★★★★
This light Mozart popera is a visually spectacular sideshow with an impressive, inclusive cast.
The setting is 1950s Coney Island fairground, as a bet is made to test two sisters’ virtue in a mistaken identity comedy – and the gender politics seems so dated it frequently gets titters.
The Improbable theatre company present a visually stunning show, which will wow you until the end. What could have been just trashy instead has style and panache, clearly understanding the glitzy visual tropes of the American carnivalesque and freak show pop culture. Tom Pye’s gold lamé and festoon lights set design, and Laura Hopkins glittering costumes, transport us to a magical, nostalgic fantasy world.
The conceit of mistaken identity and over-the-top love triangles wears a little thin, with not much chance for surprises – but the show is light-hearted, packed with physical comedy and as fun as Coney Island itself. Mozart’s music is occasionally sublime, with some splendid singing from soprano Nardus Williams. The comedy really comes from standout Soraya Mafi’s Despina, who meddles devilishly with the macho leads Guglielmo (Benson Wilson) and Ferrando (Amitai Pati). These two men are comedy gold, bringing the opera into the space of sitcom with cheeky looks and a well-informed parody of toxic masculinity.
A big whoop goes to the circus, cabaret and physical theatre troupe, who steal the visual focus from the principals throughout with cheeky routines from the exquisite performance of Lilly Snatchdragon, through world-class contortionists Senayt Asefa Amare and Tommaso Di Vincenzo, to fire work from Yasmine Amiss. However, the troupe was often sidelined – sometimes just to moving props – when they really could have had their own five minute acts during some of the slower numbers.
ENO have worked with another incredible director Phelim McDermott to bring opera to a wider audience in the age of TikTok and short attention spans. But as much as ENO do try to make their opera inclusive, there are still issues of price access, the sheer durational experience of sitting in uncomfortable seats for 195 minutes, and the stench of class privilege still in the air.
£25 tickets will be in the gods, with the sound a little underwhelming. Perhaps a lottery for tickets in the stalls, or moving the younger and more diverse audience down from the circle and balcony, would help ensure a more inclusive future audience.
Overall, an impressive production of Così fan tutte’s old-fashioned premise, which needs to embrace the ensemble and make stalls tickets accessible to truly bring Mozart into the 21st Century.
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like free, cheap & offbeat London, especially: cabaret, art, theatre, pop-ups, eating out, quirky films, museums, day trips, social enterprise & much more.