The King’s Head Theatre’s powerful and engaging modern re-imagining of Verdi’s La Traviata is performed with remarkable passion and discipline.
I haven’t seen many operas in my time, so admittedly don’t have a lot to compare the King’s Head Theatre’s re-imagining of La Traviata to. But I do think that there was something special about this particular production. It’s pure escapism. Every element ensures it’s a seamless, and accessible, experience from start to finish.
The plot’s a very simple one. A local politician named Sinclair (Victor Sgarbi) takes his son Elijah (Alex Haigh) to a strip club, in the hope that Elijah might ‘learn how to be a man’. The plan backfires though, with Elijah immediately falling in love with a young stripper named Violetta (Emma Walsh). Elijah implores her to run away with him, assuring her that he’ll take care of her financial needs. And the offer is difficult for Violetta to refuse; a rare chance of escape from the brutal wing of the maleficent club owner Flora (Grainne Gillis). Seeing this coupling as a threat to his wholesome political image, Sinclair convinces Violetta to leave his son Elijah – leading to his young son’s despair. What follows is a classic tragedian denouement.
Heavy stuff at face value but with the splendour of the music, performances and lighting, this La Traviata is a beautiful thing to watch. Leads Emma Walsh and Alex Haigh played the romance with sensitivity and, most importantly, truth. Haigh’s awkward appearance and demeanour, in juxtaposition to Walsh’s charisma and gracefulness, is comedic but believable at the same time. Walsh’s voice is one of the performance’s unequivocal highlights; she effortlessly maintains her soprano voice while performing feats of physical and emotional endurance. To begin with, Haigh’s voice is gentler and more raspy, reflective of his character’s sensitivity. But in the second act, there are effective moments where Haigh’s voice and body are suddenly captured by passion and fury.
Grainne Gillis and Victor Sgarbi both give sturdy performances. I thought there was visible conflict in Sgarbi’s eyes as he convinced Violetta to leave Elijah. It gave an extra dimension to the part of Sinclair, making him seem like a man in complex situation – rather than your traditional evil and domineering father figure. There’s not a great deal for Gillis to do in the show, other than look menacing and provide comic relief, but she does this extremely effectively and looked like she was having a lot of fun with the part.
If you’re out for a bit for good old-fashioned fun and thoroughly enjoyable entertainment, I recommend you see the King’s Head Theatre’s La Traviata. There’s nothing hugely challenging or thought-provoking about the political allusions, and they only really serve to put things in a modern context. But there’s an aching beauty in these characters’ stories of suffering. The catharsis of tragedy reminds us of our brittle identities and the ease with which our lives could all fall apart. And the release comes when you realise that none of it is happening to you.