A version of Offenbach’s La belle Hélène in an adaptation and translation by Kit Hesketh-Harvey
Helen – Rosie Coad
Paris – Joseph Morgan
Calchus – Matthew Duncan
Menelaus – David Menezes
Agamemnon – Marcin Kopec
Achilles – Robin Bailey
Ajax I & II – Glenn Tweedie
Orestes – Anthony Flaum
Philicom – Myvanwy Bentall
Leona – Paloma Bruce
Parthenis – Emily-Jane Thomas
Bacchis – Adriana Festou
Niall Webb (clarinet & flute), Neil McTaggart (violin), Nick Allen (cello), Mark Chivers (viola & saxophone), Stephen Hose (piano)
Kit Hesketh Harvey – Stage Director
Stephen Hose – Music Director
Nick Allen – Music Arrangements
James Perkins – Set Designer
Derek Carlyle – Lighting Designer
Larger Than Life Stagewear – Costumes
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 13 February, 2011
Venue: Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, London N6
Kit Hesketh-Harvey originally re-wrote Offenbach’s “La belle Hélène” for Théâtre du Châtelet and English National Opera in 2006, a production that managed to inject new life into an old piece and, as directed by Laurent Pelly, who also designed the costumes, it was a very popular success. This was also no doubt due to Hesketh-Harvey’s witty translation. He has again re-worked it for the much smaller Merry Opera Company, which is presenting it as “Troy Boy”.
The Merry Opera Company’s intent is to present “adaptations of operas that can be enjoyed by people who love music and beautiful singing but who may be intimidated (or bored) by high culture, people who want a good night out at the opera because it’s good for you.” Turning “La belle Hélène” into “Troy Boy” is a delightful move because the company is remaining true to the spirit, if not the letter, of Offenbach’s original. That said, the production may not please purists, but then with Offenbach surely anything goes so long as you can keep the laughs coming. Of course there are also Offenbach’s sublime tunes and nobody can ruin those. Nick Allen has arranged the score for seven instruments and the resulting sound under the direction of Stephen Hose is just perfect for the theatre space above the Gatehouse pub in Highgate. For a fringe-theatre the space is quite large and this allows for quite complicated productions to be staged there. James Perkins’s all-white and really all right designs are a delight, albeit using simple props that can be columns or beds one minute or a Greek restaurant or a sailing ship the next.
Plot-wise the setting is now a taverna in (would you believe?) suburban Chislehurst where we meet our Helen, who is married to her boring, snoring husband Menelaus who only has time for his mobile phone. While dining at said taverna, Helen casts an eye over the dishy young waiter which sends her off into a reverie that she is Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful woman in the world. What should she do: ditch Menelaus or surrender to Paris, the mysterious shepherd boy who seems to be stalking her?
The young cast play different parts at different performances which gives everybody a chance to sing both a major or a minor role. Rosie Coad certainly copes well with the part of Helen, a difficult role to sustain. She has a bright soaring, soprano voice that lifts Offenbach’s score right off the page. Joseph Morgan is an energetic and persistent Paris, the perfect foil for Helen. There are also Matthew Duncan’s confiding augur Calchus, David Menezes’s awful geezer of a husband Menelaus, and Anthony Flaum’s wide-boy Orestes. There are some good jokes aplenty including having the second embodiment of Ajax played by a glove puppet!
The company fields a splendidly modern and extremely amusing take on the story of Helen and Kit Hesketh-Harvey’s direction keeps everybody on the move with some fine athletic choreography. On the whole “Troy Boy” should find the Merry Opera with a hit on its hands.