The Rake's Progress

Thu 23rd – Sat 25th February 2017

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 08:09 on 25th Feb 2017

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The Rake's Progress is very, very weird in the first half and only get weirder in the second. It's unexpected, hilarious and scary all the way through. Excellent performances from all those onstage, a fantastic orchestra and deft direction and design make this show unique and highly memorable. It's a brilliant evening in the Concert Hall, and you'll be thinking about it for days afterward.

Musically, The Rake's Progress is hugely enjoyable with an excellent group of musicians expertly conducted by Adam Hickox. They handle the score very professionally, providing a treat for the audience, and working very well with those onstage. The singers themselves do not disappoint - this show is without any hint of vocal weakness. All the soloists are magnificent, and the chorus do a great job too.

Dominic Edward's set design, a multi-level confection of scaffolding flanking the stage is simple, but effective and well used. The scaffolding is permanent, but the central space was easily and quickly transformed using pieces of furniture which could be moved around by the cast. The chorus were also used in establishing setting, most memorably and hauntingly in the final asylum scene.

William Ashford's direction has helped to create a vision of The Rake's Progress which is delightful in its unabashed weirdness. From the outset, the audience comes to expect a production which doesn't play by the rules, and this is maintained throughout the show. Decisions as diverse as costume, lighting (there was possibly a lighting joke, either that or a lighting mistake), and what I guess you'd call choreography were all thoroughly unexpected, and delightful. Those who have seen the trailer and wonder if it's strangeness can be expressed in the show will not be disappointed.

They say the devil has all the best tunes, and this adage certainly holds true for this production. Opening the show by attempting to kill the tech guy, making all subsequent entries on a space hopper, even forcing a little audience participation, James Adams' Nick Shadow is all you could hope for in a villain. While his performance is almost always very funny, careening around the stage, grabbing on to other characters, donning a pair of sparkly devil's horns. But his frequent and often unexpected violence makes the humour menacing - he's unpredictable, and very frightening.

Michael Bell and Olivia Brett are both wonderful as the separated couple at the heart of the story, Tom Rakewell and Anne Trulove. Bell does an excellent job of portraying the resigned shock (sometimes horror) at Nick Shadows actions and requests, and at the trajectory his life seems rapidly to be taking. Brett is charming as his long-suffering love, and delivers some of the best arias of the show.

Go and see The Rake's Progress. If you're familiar with opera, you'll love the music, be surprised and challenged by the production, and have a brilliant time. If you've never been to one before, this is a great place to start. It's difficult to think of too many ways in which The Rakes Progress could have been improved, so snap up tickets immediately, the run is not long.

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