Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Tales of Offenbach

Jeff Clarke, Jacques Offenbach
Opera della Luna
The Lowry
01 February 2017 to 02 February 2017

Opera della Luna have a great track record for re-working light operas – and even the odd heavier one – into lively, fun shows for today, using tiny casts, minimal accompaniment and bucketloads of verve and imagination.

They have a devoted following, and you can even join up as a supporter and become a certified Lunatic.

Their new show was well up to standard, taking two neglected one-act operettas by Offenbach, re-writing the dialogue and lyrics in bang-up-to-date English (there was even a reference to Article 50) as perhaps only founder-director Jeff Clarke can, and performing them with a highly talented troupe of actor-singers.

Croquefer is a skit on tales of medieval knightly derring-do and includes a warrior who’s already lost a leg, an arm, an eye and his tongue in battle – originally designed to get round a French censor’s prohibition on shows with more than four speaking parts when the story needed five. So he holds up his admittedly cryptic bits of dialogue on little placards and sings without words (until the very end when a miraculous cure occurs).

The story’s too daft to recount in detail, but there’s a maiden in a tower who turns out to be a very spirited young lady, a poisoning of drinks which brings on the runs for most of those concerned and solves their various dilemmas, and a celebration of dancing in a hit-tune galop (Offenbach seems to have put a feature dance into most of his shows, not just the infernal can-can in Orpheus).

Carl Sanderson, Caroline Kennedy, Robin Bailey, Paul Featherstone and Lynsey Docherty all do a brilliant job with this, and likewise when the pack is shuffled for the other piece, The Isle of Tulipatan.

Here the joke is about a boy brought up as a girl and a girl brought up as a boy who fall for each other, causing consternation to their respective parents, who each know only half of the full story. On one side of this muddle are a distinctly bourgeois couple on the up, and on the other a dotty aristocrat, so there’s plenty of social comment we all enjoy, including a song about the proper placing of spoons on a dining table, and another dance number to send everyone home in good humour.

I can’t praise enough the flair on show in Elroy Ashmore’s sets, Isabel Pellow’s costumes and Jenny Arnold’s choreography, and thank Jeff Clarke again for showing how much you can do on scant resources if you try.

Reviewer: Robert Beale