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The Theatreguide.London Review

Carmen Disruption
Almeida Theatre   Spring 2015

Playwright Simon Stephens has here created a blend of drama and music, with echoes of Bizet's Carmen, to offer a barely-linear poetic rumination on isolation in modern life. And if that sounds either pretentious, twee or doomed to failure, it turns out to be a bit of all three.

It is far from a disaster. There are strong moments in the evening and, under Michael Longhurst's direction, some evocative and engaging performances by a cast who occasionally look a little lost.

If you are drawn to experiments that stretch theatrical genres or blur the distinctions between them, you will find much here to attract you. 

From Carmen Simon Stephens takes little more than some musical excerpts and the names and some core essence of the four main characters.

His Carmen is a rent boy mesmerised by his own beauty, his Don Jose a cabdriver who abandoned her children years ago and now nervously faces a meeting with one of them. 

Micaela is a student just dumped by her professor lover, and Escamillo a financial buccaneer who has just saved himself from ruin. 

To them Stephens adds a fifth character called just The Singer, an opera diva who travels the world singing Carmen in one opera house after another. 

There are also an actual singer to provide the Bizet excerpts, two cellists and the large carcass of a bull, never mentioned or acknowledged by anyone despite their need to walk around or climb over it to cross the stage. 

In the course of a day and evening the characters' paths barely cross and they never interact. But then they hardly interact with any other person, and that is central to Stephens' vision of modern life. 

The cabdriver spends more time with her satnav than with her child, the singer can hardly remember where she's been or where she is now without consulting the diary on her phone, and even Micaela's affair with her professor was conducted largely through Skyped masturbation. 

Everyone has at least one experience of noticing someone far off who is saying or singing something they can't quite hear, while a dot-matrix sign that doubles as airport noticeboard, stock ticker and lyric translator reminds us of how much of our daily input of information comes from machines.

The Bizet excerpts and original music by Simon Slater are supplemented by pop songs about loneliness ranging from Daft Punk to Roy Orbison. 

The playwright's points do get made, though not with the cumulative power he hopes for, the effectiveness of each individual story depending largely on the performers. 

Jack Farthing's comic preening gives the rent boy Carmen a lot of stage energy and a hint of pathos, while Noma Dumezweni's cabdriver and Sharon Small's diva are sufficiently rounded characterisations for us to care for them. 

But neither Katie West as Micaela nor John Light as Escamillo is given enough to work with to feel more than pasted into a play they're not really part of. 

Carmen Disruption is more an interesting and occasionally intriguing experiment than a success, but that may be enough for you.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Carmen Disruption  Almeida Theatre 2015

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