Wednesday, 14 November 2007

118) Jenufa, Arcola

That's pronounced Ye-noo-fa by the way. I didn't know. This 19th-century tragedy (which was turned into a famous opera by Janacek) has been given its first British outing, via an English translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker. Beat that name if you can! From the beginning we are in familiar Arcola territory, i.e. some remote Slavic outpost under the nominal heel of the even more remote Ottoman emperor, but ruled really by local tradition and prejudice. It is a grim tale, a tragedy of Greek dimensions. However, I have to say that I found the first hour to be really quite dull - some interesting directorial choices regarding music/movement and pacing. The big hole in the middle was the girl in the title role - Jodie McNee as the hapless Jenufa turned in something of a colourless performance on the night (maybe she's better on other nights) but I had trouble believing that a girl as plain as that could be the prize catch of the village, even of a godforsaken Moravian village in the middle of nowhere. Her lack of panache or personality was manfully covered by Paola Dionisotti in the role of the devoted and worldly-wise stepmother Kostelnichka who'll go to some serious extremes to look out for her daughter - up to and including infanticide. Cue nemesis. Dionisotti was the key to the piece and she held it all together very well. The supporting cast was good too - Oscar Pearce in the role of the luckless lover Latsa did some heavy-duty glowering, while his rival Steva (Ben Mansfield) and the Mayor's wife (Patti Love) added colour to the proceedings.

The play gained considerable momentum after the first hour, and by the end Kostelnichka's gruesome comeuppance fair had me by the balls. Some of the most interesting bits came during the above-mentioned music and movement (designed cleverly by Christopher Sivertsen) - with very little in the way of piped sound, the cast used only vocal chords and physical movements to create the necessary atmosphere at key points of the story. Some excellent Slavic singing was the result. In the end, the audience was fulsome in its applause. A good production then, well worth checking out, but alas not enough meat in it really to lift it out of the crowded field that falls under the heading of 'competent play'. See it if you like.

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